Rio Romero, Program Assistant,
National Women's Law Center

Across the country, families needing child care are feeling the crunch as states’ budgets tighten, resulting in less availability and affordability of child care—an essential support in today’s economy. A 101-day budget standoff in Pennsylvania took a heavy toll on several social services, including child care providers and the families who rely on their services. Families and providers were able to breathe a slight sign of relief when the statemate was finally resolved, with child care funding largely protected. 

Between July 1 and October 9, as the budget impasse continued, Pennsylvania simply stopped providing payments for child care subsidies. Without state funds, some Child Care Information State (CCIS) agencies distributing subsidies had to secure lines of credit or dip into their reserves in order to help pay providers. Child care centers, as one provider put it, “limped along” as some programs—which already have fragile finances—were forced to close operations, turned away families needing care, or took out loans to pay personnel and extra expenses. A survey conducted in August further examining the impact of the budget crisis found that of the providers surveyed, nearly one-third had shut down their program, 12,176 children had lost child care, and 3,604 child care staff had been laid off statewide. In addition, some child care employees earning college credit and working to attain a higher education degree were unable to register for fall classes—setting their education plans off-course. 

Just how long exactly does 101 days feel to low-income parents working to provide for their family or attending school, only to find out that their child’s center will no longer be offering services, or that the center in which they want to enroll their child cannot accept any new students? As a former teacher’s aide at a child care center, I was able to see the joy and relief of parents—including my best friend, a twenty year-old nursing student at the time and a single mother—who were finally able to enroll their child into the program after a long wait-list or search. There was no hesitance, as I asked my best friend what would have happened without child care for her daughter. “It would have been added stress on top of everything else. It would have left me no choice but to have dropped out of college.”

And that’s the point. While the Pennsylvania government heatedly debated the state’s spending plan, the consequences of the delay were costly. Each of those 101 days, low-income families, whose financial situations were already precarious, were forced to wait and make tough choices that not only affected their families now, but also their futures.

However, despite the record-breaking budget lag, there lies an even stronger message: early childhood education plays a critical role in the lives of families and also in the development and learning of children. Governor Rendell’s resolve to avoid a final budget that included significant cuts in early learning programs resulted in stable funding for the majority of these initiatives. For now, the outlook for Pennsylvania’s families and youngest learners, fortunately, gleams a little brighter.