Child care sub­sidy may get a boost

Leg­isla­tive pro­posal would al­low more low-in­come fam­i­lies to qual­ify for ben­e­fit.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Natalie Kitroeff

Cal­i­for­nia’s Leg­is­la­ture has pro­posed mak­ing more low-in­come fam­i­lies el­i­gi­ble for sub­si­dized child care. In bud­get hear­ings last week, the As­sem­bly and the Se­nate voted to in­crease the in­come al­lowed to qual­ify for the ben­e­fit.

Se­nate leader Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les) and As­sem­bly speaker An­thony Ren­don (D-Paramount) will wran­gle with Gov. Jerry Brown over sev­eral sug­gested tweaks to his re­vised pro­posal over the next two weeks, and face a June 15 dead­line to send him a fi­nal bud­get.

Brown did not have the in­crease in his re­vised bud­get plan, re­leased in May.

The state hasn’t raised the in­come to qual­ify for child-care sub­si­dies since 2007, when it re­quired a fam­ily to make no more than 70% of the state me­dian in­come in 2005.

To­day, a fam­ily of three can make no more than $42,216 to get fund­ing. If Brown OKs the Leg­is­la­ture’s pro­posal, the in­come limit would rise to $4,358 a month, or $52,298 a year, ac­cord­ing to the non­profit Cal­i­for­nia Bud­get & Policy Cen­ter.

The me­dian in­come for a fam­ily of four in Cal­i­for­nia has in­creased by about $16,000 since 2005, to $83,012, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral data.

The decade-old in­come limit has made it harder for poor fam­i­lies to keep the child-care ben­e­fit while reap­ing the re­wards of a ris­ing min­i­mum wage, ad­vo­cates say.

Af­ter the state’s min­i­mum wage went up to $10.50 in Jan­uary, two par­ents of one child who work full-time, min­i­mum wage jobs no longer qual­ify for the ben­e­fit, as The Times re­ported this


“We have ex­ac­er­bated the prob­lem with the Fight for 15, by in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee chair. “Peo­ple aren’t mov­ing out of poverty. To earn an ad­di­tional 50 cents an hour and lose a sub­sidy that may be $1,200 or $1,300 a month is just not fair.”

The state pays for all of the cost for the most des­ti­tute fam­i­lies in the pro­gram, but par­ents con­trib­ute larger amounts to­ward care as their in­comes rise.

Par­ents across the state have cho­sen to stall their ca­reers in a des­per­ate scram­ble to keep their kids in af­ford­able day care, say providers and ad­vo­cates.

The Leg­is­la­ture’s de­ci­sions “are caus­ing women to turn down raises, turn down pro­mo­tions, to sac­ri­fice their own eco­nomic well-be­ing,” said Mary Ig­natius, a statewide or­ga­nizer for Par­ent Voices, an ad­vo­cacy group.

Fran­cis Brown is star­ing at that bleak choice.

The first time the 37-yearold got a pro­mo­tion to ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant to the di­rec­tor at the Va­cav­ille State Hos­pi­tal, in Au­gust 2016, she was thrilled. Her monthly pay rose by a lit­tle more than $600, which wasn’t enough to dis­qual­ify the Sacramento res­i­dent from re­ceiv­ing some fund­ing for child care.

That sub­sidy was key for Brown, who now pays $260 a month to­ward day care for her two boys; the rest of the cost is cov­ered by the state. She gets no fi­nan­cial sup­port from her hus­band, whom she is in the process of di­vorc­ing. Brown says she doesn’t want him to have any con­trol over her life or chil­dren.

Then, in Fe­bru­ary, she found out that she got a raise of $80 a month. Soon af­ter, she won an award for be­ing one of the best em­ploy­ees across statewide hos­pi­tals, which came with a $250 bonus.

Brown says she was “hor­ri­fied.” She had just inched above the $3,518 monthly in­come limit for a fam­ily of three, and faced a $1,300 day care ex­pense.

“All I could think of is, ‘I am go­ing to lose my sub­sidy, my child care,’ ” she said.

Be­sides the higher earn­ings ceil­ing, the Leg­is­la­ture’s pro­posed fix would let par­ents whose in­comes rise stay in the pro­gram for a year, as long as their earn­ings didn’t ex­ceed 85% of the state’s me­dian in­come.

The Leg­is­la­ture es­ti­mates that those tweaks would cost the state $20 mil­lion, though the De­part­ment of Fi­nance’s es­ti­mate is a bit higher, at $30 mil­lion. The gover­nor’s bud­get plan amounts to $180 bil­lion in to­tal.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Gov. Brown’s Fi­nance De­part­ment, de­clined to of­fer spe­cific com­ments on the pro­pos­als.

The gover­nor pro­posed paus­ing ad­di­tional fund­ing for child care in his first bud­get plan, re­leased in Jan­uary, “due to what then were lower-than-an­tic­i­pated rev­enue pro­jec­tions at the time,” Palmer said in an email. But in his re­vised May plan, Brown re­in­stated that money be­cause rev­enues had im­proved since Jan­uary, Palmer noted.

Cal­i­for­nia gut­ted child­care fund­ing dur­ing the re­ces­sion. Even though the over­all bud­get has in­creased since then, the state is still spend­ing around $600 mil­lion less on day care and preschool in 2017 dol­lars than it was in fis­cal year 2007-08.

The gover­nor’s most re­cent bud­get pro­posal pro­vides 66,700 fewer day care and preschool slots com­pared with fis­cal year 200708, said Kristin Schu­macher, an an­a­lyst at the Cal­i­for­nia Bud­get & Policy Cen­ter.

“It’s balancing the bud­get on the backs of chil­dren,” Schu­macher said.

De­spite the raise and bonus, Fran­cis Brown man­aged to hold on to her fund­ing be­cause she has been miss­ing work re­cently and not earn­ing the new, higher salary.

Her 4-year-old, Sa­muel, was di­ag­nosed with a can­cer­ous tu­mor in Oc­to­ber, and Brown has had to take time off reg­u­larly to bring him to the hos­pi­tal for ra­di­a­tion, chemo­ther­apy and med­i­cal tests.

But Brown is am­bi­tious, and her respite won’t last. She’s ap­ply­ing for a high­er­level an­a­lyst job in state agen­cies, which would pay her about $1,200 more a month. Even if she doesn’t get that new gig, she’s due for a small raise in Au­gust.

Ei­ther pay bump would dis­qual­ify her from get­ting sub­si­dized child care, un­less the Leg­is­la­ture con­vinces the gover­nor to up­date the in­come limit. In the mean­time, Brown said, she’ll de­cline the raise for as long as she can.

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

FRAN­CIS BROWN of Sacramento with sons Sam­son, left, and Sa­muel out­side their day care. She may no longer qual­ify for sub­si­dized child care if she gets a small raise or lands a new job that she’s seek­ing.

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