Funding for child care, or lack of it actually, dominated the discussion at the Board of Supervisors public hearing Monday morning on the FY 2006 Carryover Review of the budget. The Child Care Assistance and Referral (CCAR) program provides access to safe and affordable child care for low-income, working families. An estimated 1900 children are at risk of being “disenrolled” by mid-October because of funding reductions at the federal and state levels.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has reduced the amount of federal pass-through funding for child care available to Fairfax County by $13 million for Fiscal Year 2007. The state’s decision to re-allocate the funds to address increased TANF/VIEW (Tempo-rary Assistance to Needy Families/Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare) caseloads means hundreds of families not on welfare now will lose their access to subsidized child care. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), “research shows that when families are not able to access child care assistance, they may go into debt, return to welfare, choose lower quality less stable child care, or have to choose between paying their rent or paying for child care.”
By not funding child care assistance at the level needed, the state will force working families to reconsider their employment and force them back onto welfare. That’s going in exactly the opposite direction from the efforts during the past 10 years to get people off of welfare and into economic self-sufficiency. Dozens of child care advocates appeared at the public hearing to plead for county funding to make up the $10 million gap in state funding. The advocates were accompanied by several well-behaved moppets in blue t-shirts who were getting a taste of civic activism at a very young age.
“What a mess,” Elizabeth Page, of the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, told the Board. “Clearly this is a problem that State Delegates have dumped in your laps!” Families on welfare qualify for Head Start, which gets huge federal support, she said. But CCAR families are working, make too much for Head Start, and can’t afford to pay full tuition at child care centers. Their only option is CCAR, Ms. Page said.
Before stepping in and using Fairfax County taxpayer dollars to fix the state’s failure, but recognizing the difficult situation facing families with the loss of subsidized child care funding, the Board directed staff to not disenroll families currently receiving services until state funding issues for the program are resolved. The CCAR program will contract through attrition, and no new children will be placed right now. Work continues at the state level to identify resources and refine allocation estimates, and the Board anticipates a report by October 23. Board members also encouraged child care advocates to take their case to members of the General Assembly, who are in position to fix the problem with state funds.