Loss of child care subsidies will cost more in the long run

It’s a long way from Carson City to the Watch Me Grow preschool and nursery on Craig Road, but a recent decision made in the distant state capital has sent some of Brandie Heiseler’s parents scrambling.

In a story that received little attention in Southern Nevada, the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services on Jan. 4 announced that increased demand for the state’s Child Care and Development Program has exceeded available funding. That has put at least 220 of the 1,100 Nevada families whose breadwinners depend on child care assistance on a waiting list as division officials reassess eligibility requirements.

The announcement has done nothing to diminish the popularity of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who continues to receive bouquets in the media for his guidance of the state through a difficult economy. The fact Sandoval has balanced the budget in part on the backs of some of Nevada’s neediest families has rated barely a footnote.

Heiseler isn’t a state budget director or political insider. She’s the director of the preschool. She sees firsthand how struggling families, often headed by single parents, depend on the child care stipend to maintain their jobs in an extremely challenging economic environment. Without that help, there would be no one to watch the children. And that means parents in the breach will slide from work to welfare.

“It’s extremely important to the families,” Heiseler says. “In difficult times, with positions being cut and not a lot of employment out there, working people really need the assistance to help pay for child care so they can keep working.”

While it’s also true that local child care centers receive those state funds, they are compensated at a fraction of their usual rate. The benefit far outweighs the cost in improving the lives of poor working families.

Take Whitney McEuen, for example. In recent months she has been working at the Habitat for Humanity Restore at 1401 N. Decatur Blvd. She gets 20 hours a week and is able to work because the state pays $28 a day to Watch Me Grow to cover child care costs for her young son.

Without that help, the proud single parent wouldn’t be able to work and would slip back into the state welfare system.

“Really, the child care is everything to me,” she says. “I was on welfare. If it wasn’t for (the subsidy), I’d be back on it.”

Hessie Bradford is under even more pressure. Although her two biological children are grown, in December she adopted three young nieces. State officials promised that she would receive child care assistance. She works full time booking hotel rooms, shows and restaurant reservations at MGM Resorts International.

Now she has learned that she might lose the child care assistance that not only helps her but also has relieved the state of the far greater cost of caring for three needy children. She says she was recently told the child care help would no longer be available to adoptive parents.

“I was told this is a service for working parents and that I would have that service available to me,” Bradford says. “Now that I’ve adopted them, I have no child care. It’s very nerve-racking to me. I need this service.”

In Carson City, Welfare Division Administrator Diane Comeaux notes that demand has outpaced state and federal funding: “Last July we made limited reductions to eligibility hoping to avoid these deeper cuts, but unfortunately we did not realize the anticipated savings. To ensure we are doing all we can, we are implementing several new strategies to help Nevada families.”

If those strategies include bumping single mothers McEuen and Bradford from the state’s admittedly depleted child care program, however, they aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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