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.

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