Opinion Columns & Blogs

September 9, 2013

Mary Sanchez: Child-care policy is wishful thinking

Once again, Kansas is bucking common sense to become a national standout.

Once again, Kansas is bucking common sense to become a national standout.

And it’s not in a good way. This time, low-income new mothers and their infants are the targets. Child advocates are just beginning to unravel the impact of recent policy changes.

As of July, 30 hours of work per week are required, instead of 20, to be eligible for child-care assistance. In addition, instead of having six months after giving birth to return to work or training/education to continue receiving the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, mothers must restart in two months. In Missouri, the rule is 12 months.

From the perspective of encouraging work, not dependence, the changes might sound good. That is, until reality is taken into account.

Finding affordable infant care is difficult even for middle-class families. Slots for lower-income people on a subsidy are rarer still. In some rural Kansas communities, state-approved infant care is nearly nonexistent. In addition, many low-skilled workers are being offered part-time-only jobs, not more hours.

“We want low-income families to work, but then it’s as if we don’t want to help them stay in the workforce,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children. “The policies are counterintuitive.”

These and other recent policy changes are affecting children. Since mid-2011, more than 4,000 Kansas children have been sliced from the rolls of families receiving a subsidy to help pay for child-care costs.

Don’t be confused. Kansas helping fewer children doesn’t mean there is less need. It means the state has found more ways to slip in policy changes that cut children off. Some fear parents will turn to unsafe or substandard day care to sidestep the new policies.

“We are sending that mom back in the workforce earlier based on ideology rather than cost-effectiveness,” Cotsoradis said.

State officials argue the changes align state policy closer with what families of better means face. It’s wishful thinking. More affluent and better-educated women have jobs with paid maternity leave; jobs that are held open for them; and the ability to stack vacation, overtime and sick leave into an extended leave. And they aren’t as likely to be seeking infant care for their night or odd work hours.

Kansas won’t help poorer women achieve such better places in life by complicating their ability to return to work and find access to safe, quality child care.

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