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Arizona to limit sign-ups for child care subsidies

PHOENIX – In a move that one program advocate called a precursor to widespread service cutbacks expected from budget cuts, the Department of Economic Security said Wednesday it will restrict new enrollments for child care subsidies because funding doesn’t meet demand and no new dollars are on the horizon.

The limit means parents of an estimated 5,000 children from low-income families won’t be able to enroll for subsidies before June 30, the end of the fiscal year, Assistant Director Patrick Harrington said.

Harrington said the enrollment limit starts Feb. 18 and affects families eligible because of income, not those participating in work-training or child welfare programs.

The $200 million program will serve about 49,000 statewide this fiscal year, including about 11,000 in Pima County. About three-fifths of the funding comes from the federal government. The average subsidy this year is projected at $351 a month, a Senate staff memo said.

Harrington referred to the parents of the 5,000 children going onto a waiting list. DES spokeswoman Liz Barker later said the waiting list is expected to remain in effect through at least the end of the fiscal year.

The enrollment limit doesn’t result directly from budget cuts approved for DES and other agencies last weekend by legislators when they closed a big revenue shortfall, but it is related to the state’s overall budget troubles.

Initial funding provided in the budget approved in June proved inadequate to meet demand. And with the state’s budget crisis, the department didn’t receive additional dollars it requested to carry the subsidy program through the fiscal year without an enrollment limit.

The child care enrollment limit “is the tip of the iceberg,” Children’s Action Alliance President Dana Naimark said, referring to benefit and program cuts expected from the recently approved budget reductions. “This is the first of a very long list and it gives us a chance to see the human impact.”

The result, she said, will be “very, very painful and very bad for families and bad for the economy.”

During the 2002 recession, some families put on waiting lists for child care subsidies had to choose between quitting jobs and putting children in dangerous situations, Naimark said. She said possible relief could come as dollars designated for child subsidies in the federal economic stimulus legislation pending in Congress, but she said state spending of that money would require legislative authorization.

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