Affordable child care still a big challenge for many

Diyana Stringer has turned down two quality jobs in recent months in order to keep her family on a county waiting list for subsidized child care, a list she has failed to rise to the top of for more than two years, giving birth to a second child in the interim.

Stringer, her husband and two young daughters, like many Peninsula families, are caught in a bureaucratic cycle that prevents them from receiving a state-funded child care slot — in spite of qualifying under state law. The reason: Poorer families who have signed up more recently continually take priority, which is also part of the law, experts say.

Under the law, local families making 288 percent of the federal poverty level or less — roughly $13,200 a year — qualify for state-subsidized child care, but in practice, only a fraction of them actually receive slots due to lack of funding, said Nirmala Dillman, coordinator for the Child Care Partnership Council of San Mateo County, a group operated under the auspices of the county Office of Education.

More than $25 million a year in additional funding is needed in San Mateo County alone to close the child care gap and eliminate long waiting lists, Dillman said.

In fact, Stringer’s oldest daughter, now 3, is just one of more than 3,000 children ages 0 to 5 on a county waiting list for a slot in state-subsidized child care, according to a recent county report. The waiting list for kids from age 5 to 12 is at about 1,755, according to the report.

Local experts want more state funds to pay for local child care slots, Dillman said. Much of the funding would go to cities with the most need, including Daly City, East Palo Alto, Redwood City and South San Francisco, where the shortage of child care slots ranges from 250 to 500 slots for children ages 0 to 5, Dillman said.

“I’m not on welfare or food stamps. I just need a little [child care] help so that I can get a job,” said Stringer, a Belmont resident.

Paradoxically, accepting a job would put her family over the income threshold when added to her husband’s $40,000 annual salary, disqualifying her altogether, Stringer said. Even if she took a part-time job, her entire income would go toward child care, which costs about $23,291 a year for full-time care of an infant and preschooler, Dillman said.

Worse, in her eyes, it would also leave little time to spend with her daughters, Stringer said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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