The Public Investment Agenda. Part 1

By: - January 26, 2005 5:14 pm

Not much suspense at the opening session of the General Assembly today, but some interesting insight about the session from Rep. Jim Black. You can read some of the news of the day here on the NC Policy Watch website.

The session begins without a defining program or agenda. It won’t be an education session or economic development session or early childhood development session. Governor Easley wants a lottery and an expansion of More at Four, but those are not new ideas. Lawmakers will respond to problems individually, gang violence, health care, funding for disadvantaged schools.

There is a better way. Governor Easley and legislative leaders could embrace a public investment agenda that would create jobs, improve the quality of life for thousands of people in the state, and define this session in history.

Over the next few weeks, the Fitzsimon File will feature part of the agenda along with our normal commentary and analysis.

Today’s investment agenda item is a dramatic increase in the funding of day care subsidies in North Carolina to reduce and eventually eliminate the long waiting list of children who are eligible for the subsidy but not receiving it.

Local papers have detailed the problem. There is a Durham woman who works at a dry cleaner, barely able pay day care for her three year-old son. Her mother helps out when she can with the woman’s with her six-year-old, who has been stuck on the waiting list for 8 eight months.

There is the story of a Raleigh woman who makes $23,000 as a year as processing assistant and has two children. She brings home $650 dollars every two weeks and pays $610 it for day care for her two kids. If she didn’t borrow money from her family, she would have to quit her job. Her children have been on the waiting list for nine months.

The stories are repeated thousands and thousands of times. In 2003, more than 100,000 children received day care subsidies, close to half of the kids in the state in regulated day care centers.

Eighty-two percent of the children who receive the subsidy live in families with incomes of less than $25,000. The average rate for child care for a three-year-old is more than $6,700 a year.

In case you are tempted to join the offensive crowd that blames the poor for their problems and thinks poor people are lazy, here is maybe the most telling statistic of all.

Nine-three percent of the day care subsidy money helps make it possible for a parent to work or go to school to be better equipped to get a job. Doesn’t sound like lazy to me.
The other seven percent pays for services for children with special needs and their families.

The subsidy doesn’t mean families don’t still pay for day care. Families that receive the subsidy pay 8-10 percent of the day care cost.

Last session lawmakers spent new money on the subsidy program, but only enough to keep the waiting list from getting any bigger. It did anyway, growing to 31,000 last fall. The list was reduced after some people didn’t respond to the regular six-month review of the list by social services departments. That doesn’t mean they are no longer eligible. It may mean they think there is no use being on the list that is 31,000 people long.

The positive economic impact of the subsidies is often lost in the debate. Parents that work pay taxes and buy things. More children in day care means more day care jobs, more money for the day care centers and the local economy.

Ultimately, the subsidy is about helping people improve their lives. Hard to argue with that goal. Lawmakers should commit to eliminating the waiting list over the next four years. Kids and their families have been waiting long enough to begin their climb out of poverty.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066