Child care alternatives explored after funding cut

San Mateo County officials are scrambling to prevent about 500 low-income children from losing their state-funded subsidized child care at the end of the year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto to cut the CalWORKS Stage 3 Child Care program’s $256 million in funding from the state budget, which faces an estimated $25 billion shortfall during the next 18 months.

The cut was blocked this month when an Alameda County Superior Court judge put it on hold until Dec. 31 in response to a lawsuit filed by public interest law firms.

The county’s Human Services Agency is now looking for alternatives for the families or other ways to fund the program, which serves some 180 families on the Peninsula, said John Joy, director of the county’s SMC Works program.

The families have jobs but earn an average of $28,000 per year, not enough to be self-sufficient, Joy said.  

By taking away child care, “you’ve basically eliminated the ability of that person to maintain a job,” Joy said.

The county’s First Five Commission, which offers services for children from birth through age 5, has pledged $705,000 through Jan. 31 to make up for shortfalls in the program.

But that funding would not cover the roughly 300 children ages 6 though 12 served by the state program. 

Ultimately, the county hopes the program’s funding will be restored by the state Legislature. Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he will support a bill to do just that after legislators return Dec. 6.

“There’s some things you can say are not critical, but this one truly is critical,” Hill said. Child care providers might have to lay off staff if the state funding cut remains, said Debby Armstrong, director of the First Five Commission.

Some providers are already saying they are not receiving payments, Armstrong said.

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