What Congress can still do for kids: keep them safe while parents work
Guest columnist Paola Maranan urges Congress to renew its commitment to helping provide child care for the children of parents striving to support their families in a difficult economy.
Special to The Times
IN the coming weeks, the lame-duck Congress will reconvene to take care of some unfinished business. Even with a new crop of legislators headed for the U.S. capital, our kids' security will remain a nonpartisan issue. And the current House and Senate can take a bipartisan step that safeguards children and resolves one of the issues that most motivated voters: jobs.
Across the country and here in Washington, the official poverty rate is on the rise, according to the U.S. Census. But the biggest losers in this economy are kids, who are falling into the ranks of the poor at a faster rate than adults. We need ways to ensure that all kids can play and learn safely while their parents make a living in a tough economy.
To do this, Washington state has used the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund to make sure children have safe child care while their parents are on the job. Congress failed to renew the funding before it expired on Sept. 30. The fund needs to be renewed, and soon.
The initial fund was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in the face of the most severe economic storm since the Great Depression. It has provided jobs in some states, crucial financial assistance in others. Here in Washington, it has kept an economic lifeline strong by partly supporting the child-care needs of 36,000 families who use a program called Working Connections.
With Working Connections, working parents contribute a $75 monthly co-pay to keep their kids in child care. Without it, the out-of-pocket cost of $1,000 a month would cancel out their earnings.
If Congress doesn't renew these funds this year, Gov. Chris Gregoire has said that Working Connections would suffer even deeper cuts. The consequences would extend well past our current recession.
In some licensed child-care centers, 30-60 percent of children arrive each day thanks to Working Connections. If those children stop coming, the centers will lay off workers or close. When better times return, parents going back to work won't be able to find this crucial piece of public infrastructure. Eliminating this subsidy would also come at a time when doctors, teachers, scientists, policymakers and parents are recognizing the crucial role that caregivers provide in the first three years of a child's life.
And this program has broad appeal. Child-care subsidies like Working Connections are the product of one of President Bill Clinton's signature bipartisan efforts: welfare reform. The massive shift to make public assistance temporary came with public recognition that, for millions of people struggling to get by, work simply didn't pay. Low-wage working parents needed, and still need, help paying for the high costs of child care. If we eliminate child-care assistance, we would break that bargain and remove one of the key work supports that keep parents employed.
Now is not the time to further damage our recovery by abandoning a successful jobs program that supports those who are staying in the work force and securing their children's future. Instead, the old Congress can set an example for the new. They'll need the courage to act quickly on extending the emergency contingency fund. But they can take heart from thousands of voters who, regardless of their choices, have said they want lawmakers to work toward shared prosperity and invest in our nation's future.
This is something even a lame-duck Congress can do: They can start with keeping families who are working at work.Paola Maranan is executive director of the Children's Alliance, a statewide public policy advocacy organization that works to ensure that all children have what they need to thrive. More info: childrensalliance.org