Elizabeth Bauchner

(WOMENSENEWS)–The current welfare bill expects single mothers to work more hours without any more child care support. Let’s face it, only a male-dominated organization would fail to connect the dots between single mothers leaving welfare and the need for more child care.

The welfare reauthorization bill approved by the House and Senate Finance Committee last yeardidn’t give enough help to poor families tryingto raise children and work their way out ofwelfare.

Now, the deadline for the final Senate vote on the bill–
HR 4–is March 31. Will there or won’t there be money to help families with child care? To a great extent, the outcome depends on Maine’s Republican senator Olympia Snowe.

The current bill calls for more money to be spent on experimental marriage promotion programs. Meanwhile, it requires single parents–overwhelmingly mothers–to work longer hours, with fewer of those hours coming in the form of educational and vocational programs. While these mothers will be required to work more, the Senate Finance Committee last year voted down the Democrats’ proposal to add $11.25 billion for five years of necessary additional child care. Last July, Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa, released an outline of the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the bill with only $1 billion in new money for child care.

However, Jennifer Beeson, director of public policy at the Coalition on Human Needs, says a ray of hope for more funds now comes in the form of Senator Snowe. Beeson reports that Snowe wants more child care added (as do all the Democrats) and she has a promise from Grassley to help achieve that.

“Grassley promised her that when the bill reaches the Senate floor she can add an amendment for $4 billion or $5 billion more.” A staffer for Senator Snowe, Ted McEnroe, confirms that she will be asking for more money.

Child Care Needs High, Costs Prohibitive

The Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., estimates that child care expenses range anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 a year per child. More than one of every four families with young children earn less than $25,000 per year, while a two-parent family in which both adults work for minimum wage only earns a combined income of $21,400 per year.

The child-advocacy group reports that even if low-income working families could set aside 10 percent of their income ($2,140) for child care, they would still fall several thousand dollars short of what they need for average-priced child care for one child. Clearly, child care costs for low-income families are prohibitive. If single mothers can’t find it or can’t afford it, their only choices will be to remain unemployed or rely on haphazard child care.

It’s not just the cost of child care, either. Children need quality care, and parents need to know that their children are safe. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found in a recent study that the higher the quality of child care that children receive before they reach 3, the greater the child’s language abilities and cognitive development and the more ready for school they will be. Universal Pre-K and Head Start have proven over the years that early intervention with young children at risk for school failure can improve school performance. However, the Bush administration is cutting funds to those programs as well.

Without affordable, quality child care, parents cannot work and provide their families the kind of child care that children need to thrive, stay healthy and do well in school. Mothers should not be forced to work for longer hours each week, often into minimum wage jobs, unless the government shows enough sense of “family values” to ensure the health and safety of these children.

Child Care is Necessary Work Support

A recent report published by the National Poverty Center shows that single mothers who have access to affordable, reliable and quality child care are more likely to work. Without these options, single mothers find it difficult, if not impossible, to find and maintain jobs.

After the landmark welfare reauthorization bill of 1996, federal funds for child care were increased and states were given flexibility in using welfare funds for child care. New laws also required states to implement safety programs and training for child care providers. No doubt these funds helped single mothers leave welfare.

Now, however, with many states facing budget cuts, child care subsidies are at risk unless federal dollars start pouring in to help. Since the Democrats’ proposal of $11.25 billion in funding for child care was cut down, many single mothers’ only hope is that Senator Snowe will pull through with her proposal to add as much as $5 billion in funding, and that our senators will vote yes for the increase.

When it comes time for them to debate HR 4, senators should put themselves in the shoes of the millions of children and parents who struggle daily with low incomes and the need for quality child care. When it comes time for them to vote, they should act like human beings, and not require mothers to work more hours without giving them a way to also take care of their children.

Elizabeth Bauchner lives in Ithaca, N. Y., with her husband and three children. She writes a weekly column, “Mothering Matters,” for the Ithaca Journal.

For more information:

Coalition on Human Needs–
TANF Reauthorization Bills (HR 4):

Coalition on Human Needs–
Child Care Resources:

Children’s Defense Fund–
Reports and Resources: