SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Every weekday, Patricia Moran has up to a dozen children, mostly from low-income families, and sometimes as young as 2 weeks old, at her San Jose home care center because their parents can: Allow yourself to take more time off from work.
To help the children make bubbles, serve them meals at a large table with small chairs and teach them “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in English and Spanish, Moran said she receives phone calls from other parents, sometimes as young as four days old. who are desperate to find care for their young children.
That’s why Moran was surprised when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is just beginning his second term in office, proposed delaying funding for 20,000 additional spots in subsidized child care for low-income families to help balance the state budget.
Newsom’s reasoning for the delay was even more puzzling. childcare places that were already funded were not yet being used.
“They need (these vouchers) right away,” Moran said. “Parents, they have to go to work.”
It’s true that there’s a lot of demand for subsidized child care, and it’s also true that much of the funding already allocated by California hasn’t been used, a paradox that reflects the state’s revenue and the odd funding decisions that arise.
During the last four years, the state had so much money that it could not spend it fast enough. With record surpluses helping with billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid, Newsom and state lawmakers have paid for 146,000 new child care spots for low-income families. That’s so many new slots, more than double what was available before, that state officials couldn’t fill them fast enough.
State-funded child care workers must be licensed by the state, a process that requires background checks and inspections to ensure that the day care centers, some of which are in homes, are safe and secure. It can take up to a year to go through the entire process.
Once the administrative hurdles are cleared, it may take more time to register families. Farooq Azhar, executive director of BJ Jordan Child Care Programs in Sacramento, says there are 4,700 families on its waiting list. When it’s time to sign up, some families don’t respond, some don’t follow up, and others just “take a long time to fill out the required paperwork,” she said.
Now that state revenues are falling as the stock market slows, California has a deficit of about $22.5 billion. Deciding not to dip into reserves, Newsom scoured the state’s vast bureaucracy for savings. Delaying funding for 20,000 new child care spaces would save $134 million.
Although it’s a relatively small amount, it can have big consequences. The delay puts Newsom at odds with the state’s newly unionized child care workforce, just months before their first contract expires. And that has angered a caucus of women lawmakers, who now make up nearly half of the legislature after gains in the November election. Their support will be key to advancing Newsom’s agenda during his second term.
“We want to make sure that childcare (continues) to be a priority,” said Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat from Winters who is vice chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “Women want to get back into the workforce. We need them to help stimulate the economy.”
The California Department of Finance, which is responsible for developing Newsom’s budget, said the administration is “committed to expanding access to child care consistent with budget agreements,” according to agency spokesman HD Palmer.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan agency that advises the Legislature on budget decisions, said Newsom’s plan “seems reasonable.”
“Overall, we do not expect access to childcare to be significantly impacted given the number of gaps currently unfilled,” the LAO said.
Child care providers say the bigger problem is that there aren’t enough workers to fill the spots. California lost a third of its child care jobs in the first two months of the pandemic, compared to a statewide job loss of 15%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. While many of those jobs have returned, the childcare sector is still below pre-pandemic levels.
The subsidized slots pay only 75% of what child care workers would earn on the open market, making it difficult to recruit new workers, advocates say. Almost all child care workers in California are women, and most of them are women of color, said Leah Austin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.
Many child care workers say they are often paid less than minimum wage after expenses.
“People have other options,” Austin told lawmakers at a public hearing earlier this month. “When we look at wages … the pandemic was really a tipping point for a lot of people.”
Moran said she sometimes takes home $3,000 each month after expenses, which include paying for supplies, two helpers, insurance and utility bills. To keep the children comfortable, he has to work harder than a normal house. According to him, the price of gas in January was 600 dollars.
Moran has considered closing her daycare many times, but never got around to it. She has a bachelor’s degree in child development, and she sees it as her job to prepare these children for life, including teaching them to empathize with others;
But it’s a phone call from her parents that changes her mind.
“I’m thinking, oh my God, what will happen if I close mine too?” he asked.
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