- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

Watch out when government officials start slashing budgets. The little people invariably bear the brunt.
Quite literally the poor little people are being cut in Maryland, where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. proposes decimating day care funding as one way to close an inherited $1.8 billion budget deficit.
The Maryland Child Care Resource Network faces a $4 million cut in its $5.8 million program that served 45,000 parents and trained 21,000 caregivers last year.
"It would devastate us," Marti Worshtil, executive director of a Prince George's County's resource center, which helped 650 families move to self-sufficiency, told reporter Vaishali Honawar of The Washington Times.
No kidding. The proposed $4 million cut would force the nonprofit agency to close 13 resource centers that provide a range of services, including referring parents to reliable child care, training child care workers, and assisting teen mothers and families coming off welfare.
In addition, after-school programs would lose $5 million and a child care program that provides subsidies for middle- and low-income families would be scaled back from $134 million to $109 million.
"The network cannot sustain cuts of this size," said Sandra J. Skolnick, director of the Maryland Committee for Children. "Without a substantial revision to the budget, [the centers] will cease to exist and along with them all the services that parents and providers depend on."
None of the day care cuts takes into account cuts looming large for Head Start programs.
So much for education being a priority. So much for being a society that cares so much for its little people.
Meanwhile, the way Virginia legislators have demonstrated their priorities during this legislative session does not bode well for little people there, either.
Members of the Virginia General Assembly voted to eliminate the estate tax on millionaires despite the Old Dominion's dire fiscal straits. Yet there are several proposals on the books that portend balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly and the young.
Many young parents are hard-pressed to pay the astronomical child care costs necessary to keep their jobs. Even in West Virginia, where it's cheaper to live, day care costs can run $200 a week. That's $800 a month more than some rents and mortgages.
Some young women work in day care centers where they cannot afford to enroll their own children. Poor parents must pay out of their own pockets, place their children in unlicensed day care, or get relatives or friends to go through a rigorous licensing process before states will pick up their tab for child care.
Unfortunately, some forgo child care, which presents another set of social problems. Or they stretch the pork 'n' beans that week.
Many of the pundits and politicians who comment on federal proposals to revamp the 1996 welfare reform law focus on those government-funded projects that promote marriage. They overlook a critical component necessary for married as well as single working parents: child care funding.
If you want people to get married, keep in mind that they are probably going to have babies. If they are going to have babies, they will need care for them because both parents will probably have to work to feed, house and clothe themselves and their offspring.
Ms. Skolnick said Maryland's child care resource and referral centers provide indispensable employment supports for families moving from welfare to self-sufficiency.
This situation can only worsen in Maryland and elsewhere, said Helen Blank, director of child care for the Children's Defense Fund. Two major changes have occurred since the reform bills were introduced: unemployment is rising and states are cutting back to balance budgets.
Watch Maryland closely. Ms. Blank said it is among 20 states that have implemented waiting lists for families seeking child care subsidies.
"The message to working families is not good," she said. "Many are one unstable child care arrangement from losing their jobs."
Will poor families in Maryland and elsewhere flounder without restored help for child care? Or will busting budgets continue to be balanced on the backs of the little people?

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