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If you have young children and you can't find someone to take care of them, you can't work. If you don't have a job, how can you pay someone to take care of your children? That's a double bind faced by many low-income parents, thanks to America's lousy childcare funding and policies. Childcare subsidies are supposed to help. They do help, if you can get them. But getting them is not so easy. In Washington, D.C., where the subsidy is so low that only half of childcare providers even accept them, one parent told the Washington Post the process of getting a subsidy is "like having a full-time job." Here's what it looks like for one woman who has, in the past, lost a job because of the amount of time she spent in that process:
Swanson said she had six days to renew her subsidy before it expired and her children lost their spots at Happy Faces child-care center. She’d called the Congress Heights Service Center in April to make an appointment, but she couldn’t get one before June, long after the expiration date. So she found herself in the walk-in line.
Under the subsidy system’s rules, she must “recertify” in person every time something in her life changes — a new baby, a new job, a lost job, different hours on the job, a raise, a new child-care provider. She must recertify now because the semester at UDC, where she is taking classes in child development, is ending and she won’t be back in class until the fall. She’ll need to recertify again in September and bring an official transcript of her new classes.
“They will terminate you like that,” said Swanson, snapping her fingers. She has been terminated twice without warning in the past.
Each time, Swanson must prove that she is poor enough to receive the subsidy and that she is in school, in a training program or working at least 20 hours a week.
This time around, she was rejected because even though a letter from her boss listed her working 30 hours a week, the letter also said she was working "no more than" 30 hours a week, and no more than 30 could in some cases mean less than 20 although it doesn't mean that in this case. Make sense?
The Post's Brigid Schulte reports that, although subsidies are particularly low in Washington, studies have found that the difficulty of getting and keeping them is similar in most states. Nationwide, just one in six eligible children is covered by the subsidy program, leaving an awful lot of parents with that impossible predicament of needing a job to get childcare but needing childcare to get a job. Then of course there's the kicker—poor women who don't work are stigmatized as mooches or leeches, and poor women who are forced to leave their kids in bad situations while they go to work are stigmatized as bad mothers. America's rotten childcare system is a sign of a nation whose policymakers don't care much about either children's safety or women's ability to make a decent living.