Dana Naimark, the leader of the Children’s Action Alliance, is going to push for increased funding for child-care subsidies in the upcoming special session by trying to dispel the notion that subsidies are a form of welfare.
Naimark said child care will be a major issue when the Legislature convenes for a special session on creating the new child welfare agency, the Division of Child Safety and Family Services. She said she would like to see at least $10 million earmarked for subsidies.
“It is important to know it is not state-run child care, it’s child care in the private sector. It literally is a voucher where the family picks child care,” Naimark said.
The issue of restoring funds for the program died quietly in the shadows of the 2014 session after a group of Republicans raised it during debate of the $9.2 billion state budget. Although no one explicitly stood against it, Naimark said many conservatives see it as welfare.
Naimark, who met with reporters April 30, said she isn’t necessarily trying to appeal to conservatives as much as trying to give them the long history of the program and concept, which has typically received bipartisan support nationally.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said the idea of child-care subsidies isn’t a bipartisan issue in Arizona, but it should be.
“To me it becomes an education process, which means that rather than being seen as an entitlement, it is actually a tool for parents to be able to leave their children someplace safe and go back to work,” Brophy McGee said.
Naimark said Arizona’s program stemmed from President Reagan’s 1988 welfare reform initiative designed to get people off the public dole and working.
“You hear legislators talk about this as welfare, and truly in any way I can define this, this is the opposite of welfare because you have to be working,” Naimark said.
She said parents in the program have to work and they get money only for the hours in which they worked and the child was cared for. If the child is absent, there is no money.
She said there are also limits on the length of time in the program and the number of children per family.
“It is designed to help people be stable employees,” she said. “It’s not a blanket check.”
Conservative language aside, Naimark said child safety is the primary reason for increasing funding for the program.
Child neglect cases spiked early last decade during an enrollment freeze. There has been a 53 percent increase in reported neglect since 2009, when the Department of Economic Security cut the child-care program as part of a lump sum budget reduction mandated by the Legislature to alleviate a nearly $2 billion budget deficit. The number of children placed in foster care has also increased by 51 percent since 2008.
Naimark said the $86.3 million in cuts since fiscal-year 2009 have contributed to the increases in neglect reports and foster-care placements.
A small group of Republicans sought $10 million appropriation in new spending on the subsidies, but the fiscal-year 2015 budget passed without it.
Neglect reports increase since child care subsidies were cut
Oct. 2009-March 2010: 10,127
April 2010-Sept. 2010: 10,561
Oct. 2010-March 2011: 10,960
April 2011-Sept. 2011: 13,158
Oct. 2011-March 2012: 13,369
April 2012-Sept. 2012: 14,722
Oct. 2012-March 2013: 14,916
April 2013-Sept. 2013: 15,560