The day care trap

October 06, 1994

After all the talk about helping women get off welfare, the Schaefer administration seems oblivious to a problem that risks putting working families back on the welfare rolls.

Project Independence, the state's effort to help welfare mothers find a niche in the work force, has been successful enough to put a strain on the state's funds available for day care subsidies. Without another $5 million for this fiscal year, the Department of Human Resources will not be able to cover day care subsidies for the children it now assists. It will have to drop some 2,100 children of the working poor, leaving scant hope the 4,000 eligible children now waiting for subsidies will ever get help.

That's why Luther Starnes, the newly appointed secretary of the Department of Human Resources, was forced to go before a legislative committee last week to ask for permission to change regulations governing day care subsidies.

Fortunately, the committee -- conservatives and liberals alike -- were in full agreement in denying permission for the changes. Instead, they charged the secretary with the task of working out this shortfall with other members of the administration.

That should not be a hard thing to do -- and Mr. Starnes should certainly not have to begin his tenure by going it alone. Good day care is essential not only to welfare reform, but also to economic development. Secretary Mark Wasserman of the Department of Economic and Employment Development should be as concerned as Mr. Starnes about helping working families and former welfare mothers retain their economic independence. So should Governor Schaefer.

Maryland has a better record than many states on day care issues. Yet some especially distasteful provisions in proposed regulatory changes reveal glaring holes in state policy. In one example, the state was hoping to help make up the projected shortfall at the expense of care givers who are already working for abysmally low wages.

Why is a job caring for young children valued so little in this state that it would be considered all right to dock the pay of a hard working care giver on days when a child doesn't show up? Would we do that to school teachers?

Why, for that matter, are day care providers -- whose charges are learning more each day, for good or ill, than a high school student -- expected to settle for slave wages, low expectations for professional development and no respect?

The Schaefer administration has compiled too good a record on family and children's issues to go out on this sorry note.

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