Child Care Budget Cuts

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State lawmakers and the Governor are proposing more cuts to child care subsidies in Arizona. Bruce Liggett, executive director for the Arizona Child Care Association, explains what this would mean for parents who need this assistance.

José C'ardenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm José Cárdenas. Arizona lawmakers approve $1.1 billion in cuts to health care, education, and other social services. One of the programs facing cuts is the state's program for child care for working parents. This could mean many parents will not be able to afford child care in a few months. The budget is waiting to be signed by Governor Brewer. Here with me to talk about this is Bruce Liggett, executive director for the Arizona child care association. Bruce welcome to "Horizonte."

Bruce Liggett: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: So before we get into the level of the cuts, tell us what the subsidies are and have been and how it works.

Bruce Liggett: Well, the state of Arizona for the past 30 years has helped low-income families working families with the cost of child care. Child care is costly, it should be, it's caring for our young children in safe environments. So the state has had a policy of helping those families with the cost. It's a voucher type program where parents pay up to 30% of their gross income for their portion, and the state pays a voucher payment.

José Cárdenas: And the state pays -- there are also significant federal funds involved.

Bruce Liggett: Over the years, the vast majority of the money has been federal.

José Cárdenas: And the connection has been -- as part of the effort at the federal level, and at the state level, to end welfare as we know it, to quote some famous words.

Bruce Liggett: That's right. The program really took off as part of welfare reform, when we codified it in our state statute, when there was more federal money that came in, and the idea was to give people obviously a hand up, not a hand out, and that we were going to recognize if we were going to change the rules and expect people to go to training and to work, we were going to have to help them with their child care and their health care.

José Cárdenas: And you've got a number of different categories that are the focus of the program.

Bruce Liggett: The families that get help familiar into three categories. Those that are low-income and working, everybody is working in that program, those that have some tie to the welfare program, they're either on welfare or have recently left for a job, and third is families involved with child protective services.

José árdenas: At its height, how much money was involved in the program?

Bruce Liggett: Two years ago before the cuts started in February of 2009, there were 48,000 children were subsidized.

José Cárdenas: And how much money are we talking about?

Bruce Liggett: About $2 million a year. And again, the majority of that was federal.

José Cárdenas: Since that -- there have been substantial cuts, how much money has been cut not counting what's proposed this year?

Bruce Liggett: The program has been devastated. It's been disproportionately cut compared to other services in the state. There's been about a 40% reduction, so now there are 19,000 fewer children being served today.

José Cárdenas: And as I understand it -- you have $80 million in cuts over the last two years?

Bruce Liggett: That's right, $80 million this year.

José Cárdenas: What are we looking at now?

Bruce Liggett: Well, now it couldn't get any worse.

José Cárdenas: But apparently it will.

Bruce Liggett: Right. With the house senate agreement, that's the worse case scenario. What they've done is removed all the general fund money, all the money that would fully match the federal funding that's available to the state, so essentially without state general fund money, or matching money of some kind, the program was going to be reduced to one that just serves families involved with child abuse or on welfare. Those families that are low-income working families are at risk of losing their child care this July.

José Cárdenas: So how much money are we talking about when this proposed budget is due? In terms of what would be left. I realize the deal cuts -- the deal cuts the general funding you would have otherwise gotten. How much was that in the governor's proposed budget?

Bruce Liggett: The governor's budget had $13.7 million. She was going to be able to bring in all the federal. That was her policy statement in her budget, for 13.7. That's what was cut in this budget agreement. Down to zero now for the general fund.

José Cárdenas: And that cut means a loss --

Bruce Liggett: 40 million federal what's being left in Washington, our federal money that if we don't draw it down will be reallocated and indicated to other states. This is money we pay as taxes.

José Cárdenas: How much money will be left in the program?

Bruce Liggett: It would be reduced to about $75 million. And the tragedy is that the only families that would be served then would be those involved with CPS and welfare, and our commitment, our 30-year commitment to helping low-income working families stay off welfare would be broken.

José Cárdenas: How many people do we think this is going to affect?

Bruce Liggett: The numbers that are used at the capitol, 13,300 children would be removed from subsidy in July.

José Cárdenas: This is in addition to the 19 that have already been cut?

Bruce Liggett: That's right. So the impact is tremendous. Those 13,000 children' parents, 7,200 parents are going to have a crisis this July. They're going to be forced with making the tough decision about whether they quit work, when they go -- go on welfare, or maybe leave their children alone, unsupervised, unsafe.

José Cárdenas: Is this one of those programs where because of the downturn in the economy, you may have fewer people actually seeking these benefits because they've left to find work elsewhere? If the focus was on helping people be able to get jobs by providing child care, has the problem actually been reduced a little bit because of this downturn in the economy?

Bruce Liggett: No we haven't seen that in terms of the demand. To qualify for the program, have you to be low-income, low-wage, so there are those -- some of those jobs in the -- out there in the economy. And these are families that have -- that need that income to take care of their kids. What we're talking about here is primarily single parent families, female headed households who don't have other options for child care.

José Cárdenas: We've talked in the past about the impact that all of this has, but with respect to a waiting list, there's been some discussion of how many people are on the waiting list. Is that a meaningful figure? It's, what, 4500?

Bruce Liggett: It's 4500 now. No, it's not a meaningful figure, because at one point it was 11,000. The families are on the waiting list have been on the list for up to two years, and at some point the state checks back and they can't find some of the families, or know longer qualify for child care. So the real number that we look at is how many people have been denied at the point that they need child care, that they were eligible, that they came in to ask for state help and that number is 16,000 children.

José Cárdenas: And the reason waiting list is meaningless is because you can't afford to wait. It makes no sense to be put on a list.

Bruce Liggett: That's right. People only -- the vast majority of even low-income families find families, friends, neighbors, make some other arrangements. It's only when families have no options that they come to the state for help. So the vast majority of people work something else out. These folks need help and they usually need it because they've accepted a job and they're starting on Monday. To be put on a waiting list, that low wage employer is not going to hold that job for the family.

José Cárdenas: Bruce, these are very difficult times. Good luck on whatever future negotiations and we'll have you back on the show to talk about what happens.

Bruce Liggett: Great. Thank you.

José Cárdenas: Thank you so much.

Bruce Liggett:Executive Director, Arizona Child Care Association;

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