About 55,000 children in California and 4,000 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties will lose their child care services on Nov. 1 because of a $256 million cut made by the governor to help balance the state's shaky budget, according to estimates from a statewide child care advocacy group and the California Department of Education.
Their parents -- given only about two weeks notice -- might have to leave their jobs to care for them. "When I heard this, my heart just dropped," said Rosa Sanchez, a medical assistant at the O.A.S.I.S. Clinic in Oakland who lives in Castro Valley with her two daughters, who are 4 and 7. "Everything that I've ever worked for is just gone."
The state will still cover child care for families who are receiving cash aid through CalWORKs, its welfare-to-work program, and for the first two years after the parent has found a stable job -- services Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had once proposed to eliminate.
But those who have worked for two years or more, such as Sanchez, will be on their own.
Sanchez said child care without a state subsidy would consume the bulk of her paycheck. She might be eligible for other publicly funded child care programs, but spaces are limited and the demand is high. Even before the cuts, nearly 195,000 children were on the waiting list.
"I can't imagine me living without this program," Sanchez said. "It's like, I'm trying to do everything right, and it's all being taken away from me."
Patty Siegel, director of the California Resource & Referral Network, said some parents might not even know about the cut until they receive a termination notice in the mail. She estimates that about 25,000 more children -- infants through age 12 -- will lose their child care in the coming months.
Parents face some heartbreaking decisions, Siegel said: "Do I not pay my rent? Do I skimp on food? If I have an older child, do I opt for 'home alone?' "
Janet Taets, a single mom who lives in Fremont, has worked at the Thrift Town thrift store for seven years. "I don't want to lose this job," she said. "I love working here."
She can't afford to leave it, either. But unless she finds someone to take care of her children while she works, she can't afford not to. Child care for her three children -- 5-year-old twins and a disabled 1-year-old who must be fed through a feeding tube -- would cost as much as she earns, she said.
The future is also uncertain for many providers, especially those who serve low-income children. Joyce Foster and her mother, Dorothy McMullen, operate the Adams Point Little People's Family Day Care in Oakland, near Lake Merritt. McMullen has been in the day care business for almost 40 years, Foster said, and only one of their current families pays out of pocket.
The center is licensed to serve 14 children, but that number has quickly dropped along with the state cuts. As of next month, they might only have five, Foster said.
"Everything is kind of up in the air," Foster said. "We're just taking it day by day, but it's very scary."
To help balance the budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto power to cut $256 million in child care funding from CalWORKs, the state's welfare-to-work program. This means families will only be guaranteed state-subsidized child care for the first two years after they stop receiving cash aid from the state. On Nov. 1, about 55,000 children will lose their services. About 25,000 more are expected to be in the same position in the coming months.
Estimated number of children affected on Nov. 1, by county:
Contra Costa: 1,700
San Mateo: 550
Santa Clara: 2,200
Source: California Child Care Resource & Referral Network and the California Department of Education