- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

We're eagerly awaiting Terrell's arrival. Terrell, which is our family name, is the baby boy about to be born to my nephew, Ryan Shivers, and his wife, Yolanda. He may even get here before this column is fresh off the presses of The Washington Times.
One really important concern about Terrell has been settled, something that leaves many new parents in a tizzy: Who will take care of the infant once the normal six weeks of maternity leave have expired?
Like many young parents, the Shivers are hard-pressed to pay the astronomical child care costs most working couples face. Unlike many young parents, they have two doting grandmothers champing at the bit to share in the day care duties.
But what happens to the less fortunate? My neice, LaTosha, for example, works in a day care center but cannot afford to enroll her infant daughter in the class in which she cares for infants. Several family members pitch in to cover the day care expenditures for Tashonna.
My sister informs me that the lowest estimate they found for day care in West Virginia, where the cost of living is cheaper, is $200 a week. That's $800 a month. That's more than their mortgage.
All the pundits and politicans weighing in on the proposals President Bush presented earlier this week to revamp the landmark 1996 welfare reform legislation are concentrating on his policy to push marriage and two-parent families.
But they are overlooking a critical component necessary for working or single parents: child care funding.
But, as Mr. Bush retains the allocation to assist approximately 2.1 billion poor families at $16.5 billion, he has not included any additional funds for day care. This new requirement comes even as he expects people receiving assistance to increase their employment from 30 to 40 hours a week.
"He requires more hours of work but not one dime more for child care," said Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. "It has been proven that families coming off welfare need child care."
Right now, only one in seven children or 13 percent who are eligible for child care are receiving it because of funding shortfalls, said Deborah Weinstein of the CDF.
Barbara Bergmann, an economist and American University professor, states in her upcoming book co-authored with Suzanne Helburn, "America's Child Care Problem: The Way Out," that child care is the incomplete component of welfare reform. It must be fully funded.
"My own view is that assuming that [recipients] are healthy and if given health insurance and adequate child care, they can pretty well make it."
U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, is sponsoring legislation that aims to move welfare to its next stage so that it not only moves families off welfare but out of poverty. Democrats have been critical of the Bush proposals in part to its failure to address child care funding.
Senate Democrats intend to sponsor welfare reform bills that include $1 billion for affordable child care assistance.
Mr. Bush's proposals also fail to recognize that many employers don't want to hire these low-skilled workers for 40 hours. To do so forces them to provide benefits such as health care and paid leave.
These ill-named "Burger King moms" have been moved off the welfare rolls for the sake of a numbers game but have not been provided with adequate training to secure permanent jobs that can move them and their children out of poverty.
No one wants to address the need to raise the minimum wage to help them pay for day care when they must work or lose additional supplemental benefits. But the other crucial obstacle to their working is finding proper care for their children.
Their choices are to pay out of their own pockets from limited resources, place their children in unlicensed day care, or get a commitment from family members or friends who must go through a ridiculous and rigorous licensing process before a state will pick up the tab for child care.
Not much of a choice. Are poor children simply supposed to founder?
A good healthy dose of practical reality is in order for well-heeled policy-makers who have no clue what it's like to raise a family in crisis situations.
While folks like to throw around figures about the number of people who are no longer on the welfare rolls, the numbers don't tell the full story.
Miss Weinstein pointed out that although the poverty rates for children improved during the first phase of welfare reform, the last numbers were taken during the robust economy. The initial indicators for the last year "are not good," she said.
In fact, it's looking like the gains of that period "will be virtually wiped out" once the new statistics are released.
If you want people to get married, then they more than likely are going to have babies. If they are going to have babies, they will need care for them.
Many of the women on welfare or in welfare-to-work programs already have children. Sometimes, several.
We are blessed not to have to worry about where Terrell will be spending his tiny tot time, but for so many others whose mothers are forced to work, we feel it's our duty to ask: Why won't Mr. Bush include the funds to offset the astronomical financial costs associated with their safe and sound care?

Adrienne T. Washington's e-mail address is [email protected]aol.com.

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