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Cranston Solicits Opinions : Word on Child Care Is ‘Lacking’

Times Staff Writer

Concern over inadequate child care drew more than 100 people to a meeting called by Sen. Alan Cranston on Tuesday night at the Pacoima Recreation Center.

“It’s particularly tough when a situation arises where you have to choose to work and abandon your child . . . or stay home and be on welfare,” said Cranston (D-Calif.), who has co-authored a bill to provide child-care subsidies for working parents and to expand and improve child-care centers.

A panel of child-care providers, users and observers reviewed a litany of problems in Los Angeles, especially for low-income parents.

The Child Care Resource Center of the San Fernando Valley has a one- to two-year waiting list for government-subsidized child-care slots, said Executive Director Lorraine Schrag.

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Countywide, there are 155,000 more children who need child care than there is space available, said Kathy Malaske-Samu, Los Angeles County child-care coordinator. A survey of county workers found that 1,000 days of work were lost last year because of child-care problems and children’s illnesses, she said.

Escuela de la Gente, a state-funded preschool that serves 75 children in Pacoima, is being evicted from its home of 10 years to make way for a mini-mall, said Ruben Rodriguez, school administrator.

Cranston and many of the audience members agreed that President Bush’s plan for a $1,000-a-year child-care tax credit for low-income parents does not go far enough.

No Requirement

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“It’s really not a child-care tax credit because there’s not a requirement that you spend it on child care,” said Patsy Lane, child-care coordinator for the city of Los Angeles. Even those who do apply the credit toward child care will find that it does not go far because the average cost of child care in Los Angeles is $3,000 to $5,000 a year, Lane said.

Frank Jimenez, a parent, said he was concerned that religious child-care centers could not be funded under Cranston’s bill. “Where is this bill going to leave me?” he asked.

Cranston explained that although laws governing separation of church and state require that religious education not be paid for by the government, church-based child-care centers could qualify under his bill. “Religious education could go on separately from child care,” he said.

Child-care providers said they were pleased that the bill includes money for staff training because it is difficult to find qualified staff. They also asked Cranston to consider adding tougher standards for child-care centers to his bill.

No Background Check

“When I got licensed, it was never asked what my background was,” Debbie Owen said. “The concern was only for the safety of the house.”

Many suggestions from the audience concerned tax breaks and incentives for employers, who they said often want to be responsive to mothers’ needs but find it financially difficult.

“Consider loans to mothers” to be paid back when they become successful, suggested psychologist Wayne Harr. Use the money allocated for the Nicaraguan Contras or money saved by getting mothers off welfare to support the program, suggested several other speakers.

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When questioned by audience members about where the $2.5 billion would come from to pay for the first year of his program, Cranston conceded that he might have to settle for less.


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