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Saint Louis City, MO August 5, 2008 Election
Smart Voter

Affordable Child Care

By Jeanette Mott Oxford

Candidate for State Representative; District 59; Democratic Party

This information is provided by the candidate
Parents cannot work without safe child care for their children. We all benefit when it is affordable, high quality care.
Since 2005 I have been fighting to correct a policy that has been hurting working families and their children for years. Workers with low-wages are able to qualify for subsidized childcare from the state of Missouri if they meet income eligibility guidelines, and that is a wonderful help that makes it possible for many to work. Certainly parents cannot go to work unless they know that their children are safe and in a learning environment. They depend on great programs like those of the South Side Day Nursery Center to take good care of their children and educate them.

The problem is that we have not meaningfully updated the income guidelines for this program since 1991. Therefore, with no adjustments for the cost of living for the past 14 years, workers have had to be MORE POOR than the year before to qualify for help.

Low-wage workers are disproportionately women heads of household. This failure to measure poverty accurately has had many negative consequences for these working moms and their children. Some have had to turn down a raise or promotion because even a slight increase in pay would make them ineligible for a childcare subsidy. These families are already living on the edge, so refusing the raise makes it more likely that they will experience eviction or utility disconnection.

Accepting the raise and losing subsidized childcare, on the other hand, may mean that a mom feels forced to accept questionable childcare arrangements + leaving children unattended before or after school. Many of us recall the children who lived near here who died a few years ago in an early morning fire while their mother was working the 11-7 shift. Others may use the volunteer services of a neighbor or relative. Such persons may not be safe choices unfortunately; in such care, far too many suffer abuse. If children are going to grow and learn so they are ready to read, succeed in school, and thrive at the many tasks of life, they need caring interaction with adults. Some childcare just involves propping a baby up on a couch with a pillow and turning on the TV. That is not enough.

It is simply UNACCEPTABLE that our neighbors who work for low wages face these kinds of choices. In a caring society, EVERY WORKING PARENT would have access to safe, affordable, high quality childcare. Therefore I have filed legislation to update the childcare eligibility guidelines.

Here's what I am proposing:

- First, my bill would automatically update the income guidelines annually by linking them to the current year's federal poverty level instead of waiting for a decade or more to change the numbers.

- Secondly, I have tried to use a figure that reflects the true cost of living. In 1991, the income guidelines were set at 150% of the federal poverty level for that year. In 2005, we're only serving families that reach 110% of that measure. I then decided to use 130% of the poverty level as the point where a family begins losing their subsidy, because that is the income guideline for food stamps. If a family is poor enough to need food stamps, then surely they also need help with childcare.

- Finally, families would not face the "all or nothing" situation that they face now, "falling off the cliff" when their income exceeds the guidelines by even a thin dime. Instead an incremental scale would be in effect between 130 and 185% of the poverty level so that the family loses the subsidy in stages until their income is adequate to pick up the full tab.

Some may ask, "Why would we serve families at above the federal poverty level?" The answer is that the federal poverty level is not an accurate measure as is recognized by academic, community, and governmental sources. When the federal poverty level was designed in the early 1960's, most poor families spent about a third of their monthly income on food, so at that time it was fairly accurate to construct a "thrifty food plan" and multiply the cost by three to get a poverty standard. However, in the decades since, the costs of basic human needs have changed so that families in poverty now spend about a sixth of their monthly budget on food. That means the true poverty level is close to double the amount stated in the federal poverty level. That's why many helping programs serve people at 130, 150, 185, or even 225% of the poverty level.

Even though my bill has not passed, my advocacy on this issue has mattered. In the 2007 budget process, the childcare eligibility level was raised to 127% of the federal poverty level. In the 2008 budget, a sliding scale up to 139% was added. (Even though that is not an adequate top end, I was very pleased to have Gov. Blunt join me in advocating for the sliding scale method.) Still we are 46th in the nation and can do much more, so I will continue to be an advocate for affordable, safe, and high quality childcare for all families.

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mo/state Created from information supplied by the candidate: June 25, 2008 12:55
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