Day Care Dollars

October 04, 1994

In day care as in virtually any other field, the services rendered rarely rise above expectations. The trouble is, with day care, the results of poor service are hard to correct. Children given inadequate care at a young age run a greater risk of showing up at kindergarten or first grade ill prepared to succeed at school. School reform -- a widely embraced goal in Maryland -- is doomed unless the state begins to pay more attention not just to the quantity of day care available in Maryland but especially to the quality. Although Maryland's standards for day care are better than many other states, there is a long road ahead.

Currently, the state is facing a funding crisis for its day care subsidies to the working poor. This comes as no surprise. There were plenty of warnings that putting welfare moms to work can be an expensive business -- and that welfare reform can be a self-defeating objective if the resources necessary to make the initiative work are shifted from programs designed to help the working poor stay off welfare. Day care is the star example.

The immediate need is for an additional $5 million in state funding to sustain day care subsidies for low-income working families who might otherwise end up on welfare. The longer-term need is for public policies and programs that adequately reflect the needs of working families, and for policies capable of nourishing quality day care programs.

First, though, money is crucial. Because of pressure from Project Independence, the state's effort to help parents get into the work force and off welfare, low-income working families are being forced onto a waiting list for day care subsidies. That list has now grown to include about 4,000 children of working parents who qualify for day care subsidies but can't get them. Caught in a bind, the Department of Human Resources is trying to cut back on subsidies to the working poor by changing eligibility requirements or reducing payments.

That won't do. It simply makes working families and their children the victims of welfare reform. And it ensures that children of parents desperate to hold onto their livelihood will pay a heavy price -- a price that will be eventually extracted from schools and other societal institutions.

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