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Working Parents Share Stories Of Childcare 'Crisis' In Bridgeport

Chantel, a single mom of three, tells her story as Kenya Moales-Bird, director of Kingdom's Little Ones, looks on. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Tim Bartlett, district executive director of Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, discusses Care4Kids at a legislative forum in Bridgeport. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
State Sen. Tony Hwang speaks at a legislative forum on the Care4Kids program. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
The crowd at a legislative forum on the state Care4Kids program Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — About 150 parents and childcare providers implored state and local leaders to preserve a state childcare subsidy program used by thousands of working parents in Connecticut at a crowded legislative forum Wednesday night in Bridgeport.

Those gathered said changes by the state in eligibility rules will leave an estimated 4,500 families — about 6,100 children — ineligible for the Care4Kids program beginning July 1.

“Is this the American Dream?” said Chantel, a single mother of three who sobbed as she told her story to the group. “You’re forcing us into homelessness and poverty.”

Chantel, who declined to give her last name, said she is a college graduate who has been working full time for 16 years. She said she might have to quit her job to care for her children this summer because her mother, who is disabled, cannot watch all three of them all day.

“What is supposed to happen to them?” said Chantel, who counts on the funds from Care4Kids to help pay childcare expenses.

Care4Kids now offers financial assistance to working parents whose income is 50 percent of the state median income or lower. Under the new state budget, the cutoff will drop to 30 percent, making many families already using the program ineligible for the funding.

It will also affect new families who were counting on the funding as their youngsters reach preschool age.

When state legislators voted on Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget proposal last month, they were not aware of specific cuts state leaders would enact to make up for budget shortfalls, said state Sen. Marilyn Moore.

The state Early Childhood Alliance, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s meeting, is urging lawmakers to maintain the 50 percent income cutoff until funding is available to support the changes. It also recommends putting new families on a wait list until funding is available.

Several other state legislators, including Sens. Ed Gomes (D-23) and Tony Hwang (R-28) and Reps. Andre Baker (D-124) and Chris Rosario (D-128), and Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz also attended the meeting.

Moore and others promised to support their efforts and thanked several parents who spoke.

“Thank you for sharing your stories,” she said. “Stories sounds fake. You’re sharing your lives.”

In fall 2014, the federal government made changes to the eligibility requirements for Care4Kids, said Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance. While state early childhood leaders supported the changes, there was no additional funding associated with them.

As a result, Connecticut estimates a shortfall of more than $32 million under the 2016-17 state budget, Gay said.

In addition to daycare, the changes affect children in afterschool programs and summer camps, said Tim Bartlett, district executive director of Central Connecticut Coast YMCA.

“What happens to those kids?” he asked.

Catherine Vanicky, director of Honey Bear Learning Center in Stratford, said the changes would mean she’ll lose an estimated $25,000 to $35,000 in income in fiscal year 2017 alone.

“We need to solve this Care4Kids crisis,” she said.

A similar meeting was also held in Stamford.

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