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Pay Now or Later for Family Programs : Day Care, Nutrition Project Need Public’s Help, Dollars

It is worth remembering that enlightened family policies really can count for those who are at risk, or who need a boost in getting over the hump to financial independence. Two Orange County situations are illustrative of how government funding choices and programs can help make a difference one way or the other.

We hear a lot of abstract political rhetoric about welfare reform and how to foster self-sufficiency. At a recent meeting of the nation’s governors, the issue was a front-burner topic as cash-strapped states look to reorder priorities to put their public assistance dollars to the best use.

Beyond the political debate is the political reality of what is going on in communities. In the poorest neighborhood of Santa Ana, the Pride Development Council’s day-care center, which has been operating for 17 years, has been struggling to stay afloat after a second consecutive year of devastating cuts.

In 1993, the city reduced to $17,500 the amount of community development money it granted the center. It had given $45,000 the previous year. Then, last month, the city could find only $13,000 after a commission set up to examine programs found about 66 worthwhile ones that were competing for a share of the pie. The founder of Pride Development, Dorothy Davis, says that unless she can raise more than $80,000, the center might have to close by the end of the year. But the reality of spending to help working parents is that the government can put up money now or it can put it up later. Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, for one, contends that his state would be better off financially if it paid for day care and other costs associated with getting welfare recipients back to work.

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The Santa Ana commission no doubt had other worthy causes, but it is difficult to imagine a better investment than the amount that goes into the $250,000 budget for Pride Development’s day-care program, which is spread through donations, student tuition and other grants. Ultimately, the inability of government to invest in day care for those in need may simply end up coming out of another public pocket.

As a practical matter, some way or another should be found to keep the center operating. Perhaps private donations can tide the center over for another year. Those who can should volunteer. Maybe some donated accounting help could assist the center in keeping its financing and records on track, so that it will be able to make the most of its scarce dollars.

Some better news was that allocations are catching up with the reality in Orange County, making it possible for a new infusion of money for the county from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Food Program. For years, the county has been underfunded for a sound program that serves pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and babies at risk for health problems caused by poor nutrition. New census figures and changes in federal and state allocation policies have brought an increase in funding.

But the organizers are sufficiently heartened that they have launched an effort to reach out to the community, the goal of serving working, low-income families who might not recognize that they fall within WIC’s income eligibility criteria. Getting young people off to the right start is crucial, and a boon for working families trying to make ends meet.

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One way or the other, we are going to have to pay. Programs like the day-care center in Santa Ana and the WIC program are designed to give people a fighting chance so they can help themselves and their families.


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