With the close of this year’s legislative session in May I received an update from the Kids Can’t Wait Coalition (Wilder Foundation). The report articulated the disappointment many felt in response to the session ending without increasing funding for the Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP). Despite the disappointment, the tone of the newsletter was upbeat in hope that next year, a budget year, there would be an increase to help support CCAP, a program that enables parents to work and kids to be in safe, stable childcare.
Given the current polarized political atmosphere, this topic may begin to tread on thin ice but allow me to explain why I think it is worth discussion.
In 2015 $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America (Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer) found its way to the bookstands arguing that there are many individuals and families in America that live on less than $2 a day. These individuals are the poorest of the poor in our county, receiving no financial assistance government or otherwise, and for several reasons are unable to find and keep work. This population ballooned after the 1996 welfare reform when the welfare system, a 60-year long cash assistance program, underwent a significant overhaul; thus creating, the author’s argue, a sieve that was no longer able to provide a safety net for families.
I’ll spare you the ins-and-outs of the argument as well as the resulting new program acronyms, but what is significant is that the reform attempted to incentivize work. The American work ethic is premised on the belief that work is what allows everyone to achieve the American Dream. So welfare, rather than cash assistance, was transferred to tax credits. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Working Family Tax Credit (WFTC) were created to ‘reward’ and support low wage working individuals and families with an annual influx of cash once taxes were filed. My husband and I learned this in 2008 during the Great Recession. When our accountant announced our large refund, having only paid few taxes because of the flailing economy, I blurted out ‘What! Why?’ ‘This is the new welfare’ was her reply.
Whether or not you are in agreement with the 1996 ‘end of welfare’ reform, we can all agree that if you are a parent or a child’s guardian you need to have stable childcare to get to work and keep your job. Herein lies the problem: our state representatives have not increased funding for CCAP. This means that the families the EITC and WFTC are intended to help are not able to work because they cannot always find safe, stable and affordable childcare. The current funding for the program has resulted in a three year waiting list. How do we expect parents to work to support themselves and their families when they do not have access to stable and affordable childcare? Parents can’t work if they don’t have childcare.
In April one of our neighbors was facing just this. Her eyes, worn, as any parent of a 3-year-old would be compulsively picked at her nails as she told me that her part time job only nets $800/month and that she was looking for new childcare options for her son. The most promising option was $900/month. I am no mathematician, just ask our accountant, but no wizardry is needed to figure out that this is not a viable option. Wanting to work, to support and provide for her son, she trained her eyes on mine, “Do you know where I can find a job that pays more money?”
There were numerous stories in $2 a Day about people who, in severe poverty, live in untenable situations and face the most overwhelming of odds, but when you are sitting next to a mother who wants to provide for her child and cannot the issue becomes all too real.
Our neighbor’s story is why it is so disappointing to hear that an increase for CCAP was overlooked, again. As a community, if we believe that work provides financial stability and self-sufficiency then we need to help make it possible. Incentivizing work without removing barriers like access to affordable childcare undermines the belief that work is how families rise up out of poverty.
Alicia Gatto Petersen
Community Resource Coordinator
White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf
1884 Whitaker St.
WBL, MN 55110
651-407-5310, ext. 227