Spend some of California’s budget surplus to help poor families with child care

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León discusses legislation to increase child care subsidies for low-income families at a Capitol rally in February.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León discusses legislation to increase child care subsidies for low-income families at a Capitol rally in February. The Associated Press

When the Great Recession hit California in 2007, state revenues declined sharply, many programs took big hits and the state’s deficit grew. Eight years later, the “wall of debt” has been significantly reduced and tax revenues have increased so significantly that there’s a projected surplus of more than $4 billion.

The time has come to reinvest in California’s families who suffered the most from steep budget cuts.

Wednesday, advocates, legislators and parents will rally at the Capitol for the “Stronger California” agenda, a package of bills to improve the economic security of women and families. The rally, called Stand for Children Day, is organized by Parent Voices, a parent-run statewide organization advocating to make quality child care accessible and affordable for all families.

Front and center in the Stronger California agenda are initiatives to improve access to quality and affordable child care and early childhood education. For too many years, our leaders used budget deficits, the rainy day fund and debt as excuses to cut programs – and harmed California’s poorest children in the process.

As a result, despite being the world’s seventh largest economy, California has the nation’s worst poverty rate, with 1 in 4 children growing up poor. Subsidized child care remains significantly underfunded. Of $1 billion cut to the program during the recession, $800 million is yet to be restored.

This failure impacts nearly 200,000 children and families every day who are eligible and waiting for these critical services. Those hurt the most include parents who cannot go to work because they lack adequate child care, and children who miss the most important learning years of their life. Well-documented research confirms long-term impacts on children growing up in poverty without adequate care and education. They will struggle in school, have worse health and earn less over their lifetimes.

A proposal from the Legislative Women’s Caucus would invest $600 million into the child care system. This would increase access to child care subsidies, lift the freeze on the state’s outdated eligibility criteria and increase reimbursement rates to child care providers, who earn as little as $2 per hour.

Other Stronger California bills include Assembly Bill 233 to require 12-month eligibility for child care services, AB 357 to ensure two weeks’ advance notice of work schedules and Senate Bill 23 to repeal the maximum family grant under CalWORKs.

These solutions will not only help counter the devastating impacts of poverty on children. Research confirms that child care has an incredible return on investment. Money spent on child care is immediately returned to the communities, and investing in child care enables more parents to work and pay taxes and ultimately reduces long-term costs to the state.

The Stronger California agenda sends a clear message: California has the means and the resources to both tear down the “wall of debt” and the wall of poverty impacting so many of our residents, especially young children without access to care and early education.

It is past time for the state, wealthy in so many ways, to prioritize the economic security of our poorest children.

Mary Ignatius is statewide organizer of Parent Voices and is on the steering committee of Stronger California. Noreen Farrell is executive director of Equal Rights Advocates and chairwoman of Stronger California.