Advocates Convince Arizona to Use Stimulus Dollars for Child Care

Posted October 14, 2009, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

For Michael Hill, the government subsidy that helped him afford child care also helped him get back on track financially after being out of work for 10 months.

“It was tremendous. That took so much stress off me,” says Hill, 32, a single father in Mesa, Arizona, who needed help paying for child care for his four year-old son Braeden after the job he finally found last spring paid half of what he’d earned before.

“On that salary, there would have been no way to afford child care. It saved me,” says Hill. “And Braeden is in a good, safe place.”

Hill is one of many Arizonans who have benefited from the work of state children’s advocates who successfully urged lawmakers to accept federal stimulus money and to use some of it for subsidized child care. The subsidy program had been threatened by looming state budget cuts in financially strapped Arizona.

The Children’s Action Alliance, Casey’s KIDS COUNT grantee in Phoenix, played a key role in working with community partners to convince lawmakers to use stimulus funds for subsidized child care. “If the stimulus funds hadn’t been here and we hadn’t been able to quickly and effectively advocate for them, 15,000 kids would have been affected,” says Dana Wolfe Naimark, the organization’s president and chief executive officer. “Parents wouldn’t know where they were taking those kids. Many would be left alone or with older kids or moved from neighbor to neighbor, with no stability or consistency.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington-based research organization that also receives Casey support, provided critical help to Naimark’s organization in advocating for the use of the stimulus funds to benefit low-income families. “They’re sensitive to the information we need and when we need it,” says Naimark. “We count on them and they always come through.”

The Children’s Action Alliance also received invaluable information through the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative (SFAI) network, supported by Casey and coordinated by CBPP, which includes nonprofits in 31 states that focus on low- and moderate-income families’ needs.

With these connections and support, the Children’s Action Alliance also helped convince state lawmakers to take advantage of a stimulus measure providing additional temporary financial help to unemployed workers. Arizona will now pay up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment insurance benefits to people who have exhausted their regular benefits. This has helped 34,000 unemployed Arizonans and their families who would, otherwise “be at risk of falling into complete financial crisis, with various threats to children’s well-being,” says Naimark.

The Children’s Action Alliance also joined with 40 other groups to form the Arizona Budget Coalition, fighting against budget cuts in education, health, and human services.

“Being part of a network—a group supported by Casey and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as a hub—gives us so much more confidence and power. We’re not just standing on our own,” says Naimark. “We feel like we’re part of something very solid and very influential.”

The stimulus package is “like nothing we’ve ever seen before, with a large amount of money flowing through existing programs and new rules and regulations that policymakers need to learn and put into place very fast,” says Nicholas Johnson, director of CBPP’s State Fiscal Project.

“The best thing Casey and other funders did to help make sure that stimulus money is spent wisely at the state level was what they did years ago—they started investing in KIDS COUNT and SFAI groups that have the ability to understand federal and state budgets and the effects of federal policies on kids.

Because they have this capacity, the groups are able to turn on a dime when something like this happens.”

Michael Hill, who recently got a better-paying job, credits the subsidized child care with “making things positive” and getting him through an unexpected financial setback. “If they get rid of this program it will hurt a lot of people, not only the parents but the kids,” he says.