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Assistance is hard to attain

Christina Proctor

What happens when the amount a parent earns barely exceeds the cost of a baby-sitter?

They find little comfort when they turn to public assistance and find that although they qualify, the best they can get is their name on a waiting list.

In El Dorado County, Choices for Children, a referral and reference agency, has identified 468 families whose income makes them eligible for some type of subsidized child-care program. The families represent 982 children, but according to a report put out in April only 233 children are receiving assistance. The rest of those children are names on a waiting list.

Eiko Kitao, 30, a single mother of two, said she has been on a waiting list for two years.

“I haven’t gone on welfare before, but I always thought that if things got too bad it would be there,” Kitao said. “I waited too long, but still I went in with the intent to get subsidized child care and that’s all.”

Kitao said with the help of friends who have offered to watch her children for free, she’s scraped by.

“I just got hired for a temporary position at Caesars (Tahoe) in the evenings,” Kitao said. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford to pay for child care while I’m at work. My friends can’t help me forever.”

To qualify for the federal subsidy programs parents are personally interviewed by Choices for Children to determine their eligibility. Different grants give priorities for different reasons, but almost all applicants must fall into a low-income group. At the time of enrollment, the family’s earnings can’t exceed 84 percent of the state median income, adjusted for the family’s size.

The first priority is given to families whose children are receiving child protective services or are at risk of being abused. After that, children and families with the lowest per-capita income are admitted.

Once a family is enrolled in a program, the parents are allowed 10 working days to find a provider from either a licensed child-care center or family day-care home, or a licensed exempt care provider.

During a White House conference on child care in October, President Clinton made a commitment to increase federal assistance for child care.

Some of the proposals included increasing child-care block grant funding for low-income families who need child care for the welfare-to-work requirement; expanding the federal income tax credit that parents can take for child-care expenses; providing tax subsidies to businesses that have on-site child-care centers; and providing scholarship training to improve the quality of child-care providers and increase their pay.

The proposals continue a trend of legislation that started with the Family and Medical Leave Act and a $500-a-child tax credit.

A representative from Choices for Children said Clinton’s movement toward more funding will definitely benefit families in El Dorado County. The county estimates that with the implementation of welfare-to-work, there will be more than 2,000 extra children needing child-care slots. The need will have to be met with additional child-care programs and more trained providers.

Tina Barna, director of Alpine County and South Lake Tahoe Choices for Children, said the agency is offering a training program for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) who have an interest in becoming child-care workers.

“As thousands of aid recipients enter the work force, the current child-care delivery system will be hard-pressed to meet their needs,” Barna said. “We expect many TANF parents will need weekend and evening care. Currently, anyone needing off-hour care, infant care or special-needs care struggles to find appropriate child care to meet their needs and values.”


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