Thursday, November 18, 2010
Judge Approves Extension of CalWORKS Child Care
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Alameda Superior Court judge yesterday approved a settlement temporarily preserving until the end of the year child care services for working parents who have transitioned off of welfare that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut last month.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, part of a group that challenged the governor’s line-item veto last month eliminating funding for CalWORKS Stage 3 child care, said the settlement would ensure services for more than 56,000 children statewide.
The program assists working parents who have successfully left welfare rolls but receive wages that are insufficient to cover child care. Schwarzenegger eliminated its $256 million budget on Oct. 8 as part of more than $960 million in cuts to the state budget.
Yesterday’s settlement extends the program through Dec. 31 and requires state-contracted child care agencies to inform families of their right to request a screening for any available child care alternatives.
The groups challenging the cuts said the governor’s move was completely unexpected, and they filed suit along with four mothers after being told last month that services would end Nov. 1.
Alameda Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill issued a restraining order delaying the cuts on Oct. 29. He later modified his order to require the state to temporarily continue Stage 3 child care and to use its “best efforts” to screen parents for alternative childcare services.
Patti Prunhuber, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Project, lead counsel for the petitioners, commented yesterday:
“We are grateful to the judge for recognizing that these working families need reliable child care, and also need to be informed where to find it. The settlement takes the court’s rulings one step further by ensuring that families will have, at least in the short term, Stage 3 care while they seek viable alternatives.”
As part of the settlement, the California Department of Education agreed to a process that allows any Stage 3 family who asks to be screened before Dec. 10 to be considered for other available child care.
“We are happy with this decision—it means parents will be able to stay employed,” Corean Todd, a board member for lead petitioner Parent Voices Oakland, said. “We need to make sure families know about their rights. We need parent groups, child care agencies, counties—everyone—to work with families to make sure they ask for a screening and get screened in time.”
Melissa Rodgers, the directing attorney of the Child Care Law Center, which also represented the petitioners, commented that the settlement created “much-needed breathing room during the holidays” for families. However, she said, the settlement represents “a short-term measure, not a permanent fix,” adding: “There is not enough funded child care to meet the needs of all these families.”
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles noted that families that request a screening may still be put on a waiting list that already has 200,000 children on it statewide.
The terms of the settlement give families in the program the right to return if funding is restored, and the petitioners vowed to continue to pressure the Legislature and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, who takes office Jan. 3, to enact a permanent solution.
“We are looking to the Legislature and the governor-elect to step in quickly,” Robert Newman, senior counsel at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said. “Otherwise many of these hard-working families will have nowhere to send their children in the New Year.”
Schwarzenegger has not commented on his reasoning behind the cuts, but his finance department said in a report last month that the savings would “create a prudent reserve for economic uncertainties.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, joined by Democratic lawmakers and child care activists, decried the cuts in a press conference last month, describing “far-reaching effects” stretching beyond the loss of child care for struggling families.
The Western Center on Law & Poverty, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and Public Counsel Law Center also participated in bringing the suit.
The case is Parent Voices Oakland v. O’Connell, RG10-544021.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company