Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Az child care subsidy cuts to aid budget will hurt kids

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Low-income families are being hit hardest by the recession in Arizona, and new limitations on child care subsidies now will exacerbate their woes.

Parents of about 5,000 children won’t be able to enroll for the subsidies before June 30, under cuts announced last week by the state Department of Economic Security.

The subsidies average $350 a month. So what happens when working parents can’t pay for child care? Sometimes the result isn’t pretty.

Pressed to keep their jobs, some parents leave underage children alone to fend for themselves or with people who should not be trusted.

Those dangerous practices resulted in several tragedies across the nation after welfare reform was enacted in 1996 via the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act .

Nowadays, with unemployment rates soaring, most people won’t give up a job willingly, even if they can’t afford child care.

Arizonans can only hope that the 5,000 or so children at issue here will be left under responsible adult supervision when their parents head off to work.

The state’s $200 million child care subsidy program is serving about 45,000 kids this fiscal year, and those lucky families should be able to continue getting state help through June 30.

Of course, the freeze on new applications could be extended into the next fiscal year, particularly considering the projected $3 billion-plus deficit looming for 2009-2010.

But we hope the federal economic stimulus legislation will provide money for Arizona to add to its child care subsidy rolls rather than freeze out more families.

We understand that state leaders must make cuts wherever conceivable to balance the budget despite extreme revenue shortfalls. But we cannot condone cuts that have the potential to put vulnerable children at even higher risk.

One lawmaker suggested the state tap money from a tobacco tax increase approved by voters in 2006 for early childhood development programs through First Things First.

That money, however, was earmarked specifically for the nonprofit First Things First, which has regional councils of residents, teachers, parents and others decide how money best would be spent in any given geographic area.

Voters approved the tax increase on the understanding that expenditures would be decided by those grass-roots local councils – not by lawmakers facing a couple of tough budget years.

As much as we want the subsidies reinstated, it must be done fair and square – and the federal stimulus package is the best approach. We hope the money needed will be there.

Working parents who can’t afford child care sometimes put their kids in jeopardy – a risk Arizona can’t afford to encourage.

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