Child Care Musical Chairs

Remember the old kids’ party game, musical chairs? Get the kids in a circle, line up chairs in the middle (not enough for all the players), start the music, and watch the children anxiously circle the seats, trying not to be the one left standing when the music stops. Some families who currently receive child care assistance through the state’s CalWORKs Program could end up playing a version of musical chairs if state legislators go along with Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut state funding for CalWORKs child care in 2009-10.

The Budget Conference Committee voted Wednesday to reject the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the CalWORKs Program. However, the committee has not decided what to do about the Governor’s proposal to cut funding for CalWORKs child care by 25 percent for state savings of $211.6 million in 2009-10. This reduction targets child care provided through “stages” 2 and 3, which serve CalWORKs families as well as families who have left CalWORKs but who still need affordable child care to remain in the workforce. The state estimates that roughly 113,000 children would be eligible for stage 2 or 3 child care in 2009-10. If funding were cut by 25 percent, as the Governor proposes, there might only be enough money left over to provide child care for something like 85,000 children. As a result, roughly 28,000 children, many of them in families that have recently transitioned from welfare to work and need child care to maintain their employment, could find themselves “circling the child care chairs” with the more than 220,000 kids who were already on the state’s child care waiting list as recently as September 2008.

Can’t the conference committee just reject the Governor’s proposal and vote to fully fund stages 2 and 3? Yes, but the proposed $211.6 million cut is a small piece of the overall reduction to Proposition 98 funding that the Legislature appears poised to adopt. So if the committee restores funding for CalWORKs stages 2 and 3, it will have to make offsetting cuts to other child care programs and other programs funded under the Proposition 98 guarantee, as the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends, and/or raise state revenues to cover the additional cost.

— Scott Graves

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