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Budget woes pinching child care

Posted: September 11, 2008 10:29 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 
Single mother Robin Unangst might soon have to choose between quitting her job or leaving her three children home alone while she works.

Unangst received assistance from the Child Care Resource Center to pay child care for her children, ages 6, 7 and 10.

But the nonprofit organization that helps low-income families pay for child care had to inform parents of more than 5,000 children in the Santa Clarita, San Fernando and Antelope valleys that payments would be halted Sept. 1 due to the state budget impasse.

"I am terrified about what I am going to have to do without child care for my kids," said Unangst, a Santa Clarita resident. "I can't quit my job - I have three mouths to feed, student loans, a mortgage payment.
My only choice is to give the kids a key and leave my 10 year-old in charge of the younger ones."

The center, which received 60 percent of its funding from the California Department of Education, borrowed more than $4 million in July and August to keep the child care payments flowing and low-income parents working. However, with interest charges now running in excess of $40,000, the organization stopped payments and is asking child care providers defer payment until the state budget is passed.

"That's what we have relied on so far this month. We've told many child care providers that we'll be able to reimburse them once the budget is signed," said Stacy Miller, vice president of external relations for the center. "A significant number have agreed to provide care for this month only but some are unable to do that due to their own financial difficulties. And those parents have been required to pay."

Fortunately for Unangst, her provider agreed to defer payment for now but she worries about what will happen if a state budget isn't passed soon.

"(The center) has agreed to pay my provider when the budget gets passed and my provider agreed to that for now but I don't know what will happen after that, I really don't," Unangst said. "I have to work and I can't afford what I would have to pay for child care without help."

Unangst doesn't want to leave her children home alone but if no budget is passed by Oct. 1, she might have to.

"I'm afraid that I'm going to have to leave my 10-year-old in charge of his younger siblings," she said. "He's actually very responsible, but I don't want him to have to do that."

Many of the families that qualify for assistance are coming straight off welfare and going back to work.

"These families who have been impacted are transitioning into becoming self-sufficient, so the really tragic part of this is that those families were just on the cusp of making it," Miller said. "If the budget isn't passed until October, what will happen to these families? The funds simply don't exist until the budget is passed."

The state legislators probably aren't thinking about how their actions affect people like her, Unangst said.

"I'm very upset, because this is really affecting a lot of people that I know," she said. "I want the budget to be passed so that this can be resolved."

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