Cut backs for child day-care postponed

Published 11:34 pm Friday, March 13, 2009

Two days after Alabama’s unemployment hit its highest level in more than 21 years, the state government postponed cuts in subsidized child care that could have put more Alabamians out of work.

The state Department of Human Resources had been planning to eliminate coverage April 1 for 3,000 children of low-income working parents. But Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner announced Friday the cuts were being postponed until May 1, and the department is looking for ways to avoid making them at all.

“We are committed to serving as many children as possible and assisting low-income families so they can remain in the work force,” she said.

Her department uses state and federal funds to pay part of the day-care costs for 27,000 children whose parents are in low-paying jobs or job-training programs. Without the assistance, many parents wouldn’t be able to work because their salaries wouldn’t cover day-care costs and household expenses.

Her department has seen its state funding shrink in the economic slowdown and was planning to cut coverage for the highest-earning families – those making between 120 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The level for a family of four is $22,050 annually.

Groups that work with low-income families had warned the cuts could force parents to quit their jobs and increase the 7.8 percent unemployment rate that was announced Wednesday. The rate is Alabama’s highest since May 1987.

Buckner said money Alabama is getting from a new federal appropriations bill will provide temporary funding to avoid any cuts in April.

Linda Tilly, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Alabama’s Children, said Friday the one-month delay will give state officials time to see if child-care funding coming from the federal stimulus package will allow the program to keep running at its present level.

“This gets us through a short-term crisis,” she said.

She said it would have been devastating to parents if they had quit their jobs April 1 to stay home with their children and then had the state re-establish coverage in a few months with federal stimulus funds. Finding new jobs in the current economy would have been very difficult, she said.

“It’s so hard once you lose a child-care slot and job to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” she said.

Ron Gilbert, senior policy analyst with Alabama Arise, a coalition working to assist the poor, said many citizens don’t realize how subsidized day care helps people they enounter every day.

“They may be the person you bought your coffee from this morning. They may be the person who changes the sheets in the hotel where legislators stay,” he said.