Austin Hill’s Sept. 25 commentary on the recent National Women’s Law Center child care study (“Turning good news into bad,” Opinion 2) argues that it is a positive development that Arizona payments on behalf of children from low-income working families that are at the bottom when compared to other states.
East Valley readers deserve to learn the findings and hear views that are fully informed by facts.
Hill failed to explain the purpose of child-care subsidy or the negative consequences of inadequate state payments. The point of the NWLC study is that, by any measure, Arizona’s payments do not support parental choice or quality care for poor children.
Certainly there are those who think that other people’s problems should not cost them one dime. Yet, the majority of Arizonans believe in providing a reasonable helping hand to poor working families. Arizona’s child care payments are not reasonable or adequate.
In the mid 1990s, the Arizona Legislature reformed welfare by requiring work. The child-care subsidy program was designed to help people stay off welfare or transition from welfare to work and self-sufficiency. The average length of time parents receive child-care assistance is less than one year.
In Arizona, 33 percent of all children live with a single parent, and 55 percent of all children younger than 6 live in households in which all available adults are in the work force. These parents need affordable child care to work and children need quality care for healthy development and success in school. The cost of licensed full-time care for young children is $5,000 to $8,500 per year — more than college tuition and certainly beyond the reach of low-income families.
The vast majority of eligible families do not use the subsidy — they do use family, friends or other options. Yet, some will need state assistance.
They are largely working single parents trying to break out of poverty and support their children. Parents only suffer through the loss of dignity and privacy to apply for public assistance when it is absolutely necessary for their survival and the well-being of their children.
The amount the state pays determines whether child care options are available for parents. Arizona bases its payments on the 2000 cost of care. Almost 40 states make payments that are closer to the actual cost of care, including Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. State payments are so low that they do not cover what two-thirds of the licensed centers in Maricopa County charged for young children in 2006. Families getting help are required to pay portion of the costs, but with outdated state payments they may pay up to 20 percent of their gross monthly income.
Who can afford that after food, housing, transportation and other necessities?
State child care assistance is an investment in families, children and communities that pays off by supporting work, employers and the economy. Elected officials should avoid falling further behind by implementing a multi-year plan to increase subsidy payments to the current cost of care.
Bruce Liggett is executive director of the Arizona Child Care Association.