California must increase access to child care

Advocates and legislators rally at the state Capitol in March for an economic agenda for women and children.
Advocates and legislators rally at the state Capitol in March for an economic agenda for women and children.

Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a budget that will invest $145 million in early childhood education this year and $500 million over the next four years. It’s a substantial amount to expand access to preschool and to raise the rates paid to those who provide child care to poor children.

But the governor and Legislature can’t forget there is much unfinished business.

Child care was damaged by deep budget cuts during the recession, and reinvestment so far has failed to restore necessary support to families with infants and toddlers – the age at which child care is most expensive.

In California, the average cost of full-time infant care at a day care center exceeds $1,000 a month, while care at a family provider is about $700 monthly. But a minimum-wage worker earns a little more than $1,500 a month, which means that nearly half their income must be spent on child care, leaving way too little for housing, food, utilities and transportation.

Fortunately, California has a system in place to help poorer parents. Prior to the recession, the state provided 450,121 subsidized child care slots. But during the recession, the state slashed more than 111,000 of these slots, leaving families without dependable child care, resulting in lost jobs or educational opportunities and pushing parents deeper into poverty.

Research shows the importance of preschool to a child’s success in school and later in life. So why are we leaving babies and toddlers behind by not making more quality child care available?

Gov. Brown has signed into law policies that help low-income workers, including a minimum-wage hike, a state earned-income tax credit and now raising reimbursement rates for child care providers, many of whom are low income.

The rates were increased to keep up with the state’s rising minimum wage, but we also need to raise the income levels that qualify for child care help. We can’t let the higher minimum wage price families out of being able to afford child care.

We must also add more child care slots for infants and toddlers. Otherwise, it means parents losing their jobs because they can’t afford reliable, quality care. It means parents facing a completely unnecessary barrier to lift themselves out of poverty.

It means shame on California. In next year’s budget, the governor and Legislature must do right by the state’s youngest children and their caregivers by restoring child care slots lost during the recession. Otherwise, shame on us.

Linda Asato is executive director of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Center in San Francisco. She can be contacted at