Gordon legislation sets subsidized childcare criteria

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San Mateo County’s high cost of living has led state legislators to make a child care subsidy pilot program a permanent fixture in the county.

One of the first of its kind in the state, the program gives the county more control over spending of state-allocated child care subsidies — which over the years have helped hundreds of families.

“This bill is ultimately about local control and providing local governments with the tools necessary to best serve their residents,” said state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, who authored the bill. Gordon noted the program has a nearly decadelong track record of success.

The legislation — recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown — outlines an alternative set of criteria to determine whether a family is eligible to receive subsidized child care. The bill also includes additional provisions that allow the county more control over child care subsidies, such as authorizing sliding-scale fees and co-payments for families who are not income-eligible.

The pilot program also includes provisions that let family members take jobs and still receive assistance. That’s important, because in some cases a slightly higher income can result in a loss of a child care subsidy, and parents sometimes turn down opportunities in fear of losing the subsidy, said Nirmala Dillman of the Child Care Partnership Council.

The program serves about 1,200 full-time-equivalent children, adding up to 250,000 more child school days, according to Dillman, who noted that the gains are in spite of cuts that slashed more than a quarter of the county’s child care and development budget.

Prior to initiating the program, the county returned about 15 percent in state funding earmarked for child care subsidies because it was unable to locate enough eligible families. But since 2004, the county has returned much less state funding. Most recently in fiscal year 2011-12, the county was unable to spend 3.6 percent of the state funding — or $652,580. The pilot program was the primary reason for the drastic difference, although budget cuts also contributed, state documents said.

The legislation does not allocate funding in addition to the $27 million the county already receives for various childcare subsidies.

The recently released California Poverty Measure — a metric developed by several scientists at Stanford University that includes additional cost-of-living expenses — indicated 18 percent of the county lives in poverty, largely due to housing costs. Factoring in cost-of-living conditions, an hourly worker in the county must earn $36.63 per hour to afford a two-bedroom home in the area, ranking it as one of the most expensive places to live in the country, according to a recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The San Mateo County program began as a pilot in 2004, and was considered so successful that San Francisco opted to run its own version in 2006. The state legislation extends San Mateo County’s program by four years and extends San Francisco’s pilot program by an additional two years, until 2016.

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