CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For decades, one important tool for keeping parents employed has been helping them find and pay for child care. However, on Jan. 1, the state's child care program faces a major cut that will leave the parents of 1,300 kids with an unthinkable choice: Either leave their children unattended or quit their jobs.
West Virginia already has the lowest labor participation rate for women, and one of the lowest overall. One of the state's top priorities this year should be to protect the West Virginia Child Care Program. It is a smart, strategic investment to keep our families working and our economy growing.
To qualify, parents must work or go to school full-time. They get child care at a reduced rate for children up to age 13. The program formerly covered families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line, but was cut a few years ago. Starting Jan. 1, there is a plan to cut it again to families earning just 150 percent of the poverty line.
These cuts would force parents like security guards, construction workers and senior care providers to quit their jobs or give their kids subpar care.
Our child care program is essential to our economy. Not only does high quality child care help parents keep working, it provides kids with a head start to break the cycle of poverty. It helps employers and reinforces our culture of work. Giving small employers access to focused, dedicated workers with reliable child care attracts businesses and strengthens our economy -- not to mention the dozens of child care facilities that will shut their doors and lay off workers if cuts persist.
We must stop complaining about parents who don't live up to their responsibilities, and start supporting the parents who work hard and play by the rules.
Parents like Amanda Wendel, a day treatment supervisor from McMechen and a single mom of three boys, aged 7, 10, and 11. Seven years ago she enrolled at West Liberty State College to provide a better life for her boys. After she graduated with an honors degree in psychology (and a minor in education), she got a job as a therapeutic consultant. A year later, she was promoted to supervisor. She spends her days teaching adults with developmental disabilities to brush their teeth, balance their checkbooks and lead more independent lives.
When the cut takes effect, she will no longer be eligible for the child care program. She will face a new bill of $7,960, just to provide basic after-school and summer care for her boys.
Like any good parent, she has already reached out to her provider, her family, the boys' school, and other parents. But there is nothing they can do for her. She says she feels like the carpet has been pulled out from under her.
We must not put parents like Amanda in the position where the best way to help their kids is to quit working. Child care may be expensive. But the alternative is much costlier.
We care about this problem because it gets to the root of what kind of state we want to be. Whether it is the high cost of housing in the Eastern Panhandle, the difficulty of holding down a job in the southern coalfields, or the increasing child care burden being shouldered by grandparents, we see the struggles that bank tellers and bus drivers and warehouse workers face in trying to make a life for their kids.
It will take political will to find the funding to save this program. All of us -- providers, parents, and taxpayers -- will have to pitch in. But this is just the sort of program that should gain bipartisan support in our new Legislature.
We look forward to working with the governor and legislators from both parties so that no parent is forced to quit their job to provide a better life for their kids.Skinner is a Democratic delegate-elect for the 67th District, and Smith is executive director of West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.