Feb. 23, 2007 – For the sixth consecutive year, the Bush administration is letting hundreds of thousands of children grow up without the subsidized child care that advocates say is crucial for working-poor families.
The White House budget request for fiscal year 2008 freezes discretionary funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the main fund that supports child care for low-income families â€“ including but not limited to those on welfare assistance.
While annual federal funding for the program, now about $5 billion, has remained essentially flat for several years, inflation and other budgetary pressures have reduced the number of children served by an estimated 150,000 from fiscal year 2000 to 2006. The White House itself projects that by fiscal year 2010, the number of children served will have tumbled from the current 2.3 million to 2 million.
According to an analysis of Congressional Budget Office data by the liberal think tank Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), new welfare "reform" legislation passed by Congress last year leaves states with a childcare funding gap of more than $11 billion. The Center anticipates that the legislationâ€™s expanded work-participation requirements, designed to shuttle people from public assistance into the workforce, will increase demand for childcare services.
Overall, federal budget data shows that childcare funding from various state and federal sources has eroded steadily since 2003, prompting some states to curtail services through tactics like tighter eligibility rules, enrollment caps or raising costs for families. Moreover, according to CLASP, existing childcare funds reach only about one in seven federally eligible children nationwide.
Drawing on state-based studies on low-income households, CLASP argues that without government assistance, struggling families may turn to lower-quality or informal care arrangements, or try to pay for child care by skimping on other expenses like rent or clothing. Conversely, CLASPâ€™s research suggests that when families receive adequate childcare support, they are more likely to move from public assistance to long-term, higher-paying work.
Danielle Ewen, director of child care and early education with CLASP, said shrinking access to child care undermines the goal of so-called reforms: increasing parentsâ€™ economic self-sufficiency.
"Because they just canâ€™t work without a safe and reliable place to put their kids," Ewen told The NewStandard, "they may have to go back into the welfare system, or in many cases, turn to the welfare system when they havenâ€™t been there in the first place."