WASHINGTON – Thousands of Maryland families who are struggling to get off welfare are finding themselves handicapped by a lack of available and affordable day care for their children, advocates said Friday.
The number of children on a state waiting list for childcare vouchers ranges from 12,000, according to some advocates, to as many as 22,000, according to documents from the YMCA of Central Maryland.
The advocates said the list has been growing since a budget squeeze forced the state to freeze enrollment in the voucher program in January 2003.
Officials with the Maryland Department of Human Resources could not be reached Friday to comment on the numbers. But, whatever the number, advocates said the situation is “horrible.”
“Until you have the money and try to make it stretch, you don’t know what these families face,” said Christine Ader Soto, the vice president for children and family services and community development at the YMCA of Central Maryland.
Not only was the budget cut for childcare assistance, but for those who still qualified for vouchers, the share they have to pay “has been raised by almost 50 percent,” said Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities. She said the co-pay varies by county and by the child’s age, but that any amount is too much for some families.
“We’re requiring people to work, but people don’t have anyone to watch their kids,” Meade said.
Their remarks came as the national YMCA released the results of a survey of 800 voters, split between parents and non-parents. While the level of their responses differed slightly, all agreed that there was not enough childcare available in the country and that fixing the problem is an “absolute necessity” for communities.
The study did not suggest solutions, however, and YMCA officials at Friday’s news conference said only that they hoped it would help win more support in Congress for childcare funding. The state gets money for its childcare voucher program from federal welfare funds.
In Maryland, Ader Soto said the average cost of daycare for kids under age 2 is $190 per week, and the average cost of care for kids between 2 and 4 is $130 per week. For older children, who need care in the summer or before or after school, the cost averages $110 a week, she said.
Ader Soto said that means the cost for a year of daycare for a toddler — $6,760 — is getting to be more expensive than a year at a community college.
“I don’t think a family should be in a position that compromises their child,” she said.
Despite the bleak numbers, advocates took some solace in the survey’s findings of support for childcare programs.
“In the course of a year, we’ve gone from zero to 12,000 (kids on the list),” said Steve Hill, of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. “It’s clear that we need to do more to help people find child care.”
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