Petition calls for quality child care
In an era when good investment returns are increasingly hard to attain, the diocesan Public Policy Committee is trying to sell Albany on what the committee considers a guaranteed winner: child-care subsidies for families in need.
Increasing child-care assistance is the Public Policy Committee's advocacy focus for 2012-13. On Public Policy Weekend, Feb. 9-10, parishioners across the diocese will sign petitions urging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to invest $300 million in subsidies that will enable low-income working families to obtain safe, high-quality child care for their children. The petitions will be forwarded later in February to state leaders. Fact sheets and other materials on the campaign can be found at www.dor.org/index.cfm/catholic-charities/public-policy/child-care/.
Last year's state budget included $92 million in state funds to offset federal cuts in child-care subsidies, and Cuomo has pledged an additional $215 million in child-care subsidies in the 2013-14 budget. However, the Public Policy Committee is asking for an extra $85 million, noting that government funding for quality child care has dropped by 45 percent over the past decade while costs for this type of care have risen.
A full-time worker earning the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour makes only $15,080 annually, yet according to the Public Policy Committee families within the Rochester Diocese face annual costs of more than $8,000 for preschool child care and up to $12,000 for infants. Advocates of increased child-care funding noted the stress that inadequate subsidies can place on families: reduction or loss of employment for parents; unstable child-care options for children; and loss of well-regarded child-care businesses due to declining numbers of clients.
The Public Policy Committee is emphasizing the many pluses of investing in high-quality child care, noting that children who spend their first years in positive settings accomplish more at school and that their parents perform better at work. In addition, the committee asserts that every dollar invested in good child care returns at least $7 in tax savings because the enrolled children need fewer services , such as special education.
"It goes back to the fact that 75 percent of brain growth and 85 percent of intellect and social-skills development occur in those first five years. If they just show up for kindergarten, it's way too late," said Marvin Mich, a Public Policy Committee member who serves as director of social-policy research at Rochester's Catholic Family Center.
Public Policy Committee member Kathy Dubel, the justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler, said the committee chose child-care funding as its advocacy issue based on input from grassroots groups and Catholic Charities offices around the diocese. She cited the effects of decreased child-care options in Chemung County, where the families of 250 children saw their subsidies eliminated in mid-2012 due to lack of available funding.
"Families who have lost their child-care subsidy have been coming to us asking for help paying their child-care costs. This is very difficult since our resources to help are very limited," Dubel said. "Families tell us that they are forced to patch together somewhat erratic care -- one day with a neighbor, the next day with an elderly relative, etc., etc."
Dubel added that "several child-care providers have closed their doors because they simply could not cover operating costs with the loss of children whose families were no longer able to pay for care. This certainly does not help the local economy when small businesses go under."
Mich said he can appreciate the fact that state legislators have many vital budget issues to contend with, such as recovery from Hurricane Sandy. "It's tough spreading the money. We have, obviously, many competing needs in the state," he acknowledged. Yet Mich and Dubel said they feel strongly enough about the value of child-care subsidies that they've made it an ongoing topic of discussion with their area legislators.
"We do have a choice about this, so that children of low-income families can get a good start in life," Mich said.
In addition to this advocacy issue, the Public Policy Committee has selected two education issues for 2012-13 to be addressed by Catholic Charities agencies and parish social-ministry committees throughout the diocese. The education initiatives are promoting peace during an age of new warfare technologies, and securing conscience protections in laws and mandates.