Child Care Advocates Achieve Victories in Several States
08.14.2012 | Opposing Views | National Womens Law Center
While a number of states have made cuts to their child care assistance programs—leading to more restrictive eligibility criteria to qualify for help paying for care, longer waiting lists to receive help, higher copayments for parents receiving child care assistance, or lower provider reimbursement rates—several states have more positive news to report. In a recent conference call held by the National Women’s Law Center and CLASP, child care advocates from California, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, and New York City talked about how they managed to prevent drastic losses and, in some cases, achieve notable gains for child care and early education. Through their carefully planned strategies, sharp focus, and persistence, the advocates were successful in their efforts to defend and promote these important investments that matter so much to children and families.
Without the efforts of advocates, child care cuts in several states would have been far worse. In California, advocates managed to reduce the size of the cut to child care and early education programs from $500 million in the governor’s original proposal—which could have resulted in 60,000 fewer children able to participate in these programs—to $130 million in the final budget. Due to advocates’ efforts in New York City, $150 million was restored to the budget for child care and after-school programs, protecting services for 47,000 children.
In Illinois, advocates were not able to prevent an increase in parent copayments or a freeze on reimbursement rates for child care centers, but they were able to stop the income eligibility limit for child care assistance from being lowered from 185 percent of poverty ($35,317 a year for a family of three) to 150 percent of poverty ($28,635 a year for a family of three).
A few states took positive steps forward. New Jersey will provide $2 million in new funding to serve 4,100 children on the waiting list for child care assistance. Iowa will increase provider reimbursement rates by 2 percent.
The advocates discussed some of the strategies that were key to their success. They stressed the importance of narrowing their focus. Even if there were multiple issues to address, they recognized the need to focus on only one or two key issues if they were to make progress on any front. For example, even though Iowa advocates were concerned about the new waiting list for child care assistance, advocates decided that their first priority would be to improve reimbursement rates. Advocates from the various states described how they formed coalitions of different groups that agreed to work in concert on the selected issues, so that everyone would have a unified message and move in the same direction.
Advocates also highlighted how they used data in a targeted way to make their case. For example, New York City provided city council members with data on what the proposed funding cuts would be in each of their districts. New Jersey advocates provided state legislators with data on size of the waiting list for child care assistance in their districts. New Jersey paired the data on the total number of families on the waiting list in each district with stories about individual families struggling without child care assistance. Illinois used information about the impact of child care on the local economy to demonstrate the importance of protecting investments in this area.
The advocates’ successes illustrate that it is possible to make progress on child care and early education, even in the midst of a challenging economic and fiscal climate. By building coalitions, reaching out to key policy makers, and strategically deploying data, media, and messaging, advocates in these and other states can protect and expand investments that support children and their families.