Things That Matter

Childcare Is More Expensive Than College, And These Parents Are Feeling The Effects

In honor of Labor Day, mitú is running a short series highlighting childcare providers in California and those affected by struggles with childcare. More than half of licensed providers are women of color. One in three providers in California are Latina. They and others are fighting for a fairer wage, collective bargaining within the government and many other issues. The final story in the series focuses on the parents struggling with accessing childcare.

Jillian Parker sits at a small school table, made specially for tiny child hands to draw funny little animals on construction paper. The table is located in the home of Tonia McMillan, a childcare provider who provides in-home care and education for Parker’s three children. The 29-year-old single mom of three says finding quality childcare hasn’t been hard for her.

The keeping it is hard,” she says.

This is a major problem parents are facing, stemming from financial strain to bureaucratic red tape. Mary Ignatius, an organizer with Parent Voices, identifies the main barriers to child care for parents to be a lack of supply, affordability and a bad system for subsidized care.

In most states, childcare is more expensive than a year of tuition at a state college. That’s not an exaggeration. In 2015, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report explaining how childcare has become out of reach for working families.

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

EPI has an online Family Budget calculator where people can input family size and geographical location to calculate the average monthly and annual cost of living in different cities across the country. It estimates child care for two children in San Francisco, LA, and San Diego to cost $901/month. That’s $10,815 for a year of childcare. In New York, that cost skyrockets to $2,011/month, or $24,130/year. Basic tuition at San Diego State University is $7,184/year. At San Francisco State, it’s $6,484 for in-state students. A year at State University of New York, Buffalo is $21,550. Midwestern and southern states also follow this trend.

Driving the price of childcare are market rates, which vary from city to city, and the ratio of provider to child/children in their care. Infant care is the most expensive since you need one provider for every three infants in their care.

“Do you want someone watching more than 3 babies?” says Ignatius. “I can barely watch one! As children get older, gets a little less, but it’s still very expensive.”

Ignatius herself pays $1,500 a month in San Francisco for full-time childcare for her four-year-old son. If she had another child, that cost would more than double.

The child care system in place in the state of California is so broken that no one is winning: Not the childcare providers making as low as $2/hour and working 15-hour days minimum nor the parents that either can’t afford childcare costs or struggle trying to navigate the state’s subsidized care system.

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

The ones most affected, however, are the children missing out on quality childcare and education, and low-income families and black and Latino families.

That leads to a series of larger social issues, like developmental setbacks, a higher risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline and many other societal problems that especially affect disadvantaged people of color.

As we shared in the first installment of this series, the childcare system is frustratingly confusing and tedious. While some parents pay out of pocket for child care, making it a somewhat simple transaction (you watched my child, here is the money I owe you), many others rely on subsidized childcare from the state government, with the government providing funding to local non-profits who then pay the providers directly.

Parker is one of those parents. And the process of maintaining subsidized care is an endless series of headaches.

“You take one piece of paper up there and you think you’re done, and then you’ll get a call two days later. ‘Oh, you’re missing this,’” says Parker. “And it’s like, ‘Ok why didn’t you tell me that when I was up there?’ You’ll take that and go back. I’ve gone to Tonia many times frustrated. They keep calling me because they need this or they need that, and she’s gone to bat for me many times. Like ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got it.’”

Not only that, but if there is an issue with paperwork, if a parent’s hours changed, if they got a slight raise or something else comes up, agencies will stop approving care, even going so far as not paying providers for care they’ve already provided.

That back and forth often cuts into Parker’s work hours. Luckily, she has an understanding employer who sees the connection between her ability to work and her access to childcare. But many aren’t so lucky.

Lack of childcare has been proven to be a major barrier to unemployment for parents. The Center for American Progress reports that “2 million parents are forced to make career sacrifices due to problems with childcare.” In 2014, PBS reported that for many double-parent households it’s cheaper for a parent to stay home than pay for child care. Even that is a luxury though.

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

Twenty-five-year old Yolanda Palacios, a researcher for a construction notice company, and her husband, a working musician, struggle to get by, even on two incomes. Her student loan payments and child support for his daughter from a previous relationship have added extra financial strain. The little extra money they have is going towards her husband’s immigration lawyer, who is helping them establish permanent residency. He’s currently undocumented.

“We pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. Staying home is not an option,” says Palacios. “Right now I’m just trying to find a higher paying job. But since we’re working on his residency I have to sponsor him. I need to have a stable income, so I don’t know if I go and get a new job it will affect his residency application.”

Currently, Palacios’ mom is providing childcare at little cost. However, her mom is planning on going back to work in the next year, leaving Palacios and her family in a tough spot. After researching childcare near her, she realized it’s out of reach and saving for that coming cost is nearly impossible.

It’s stressful. Right now I’m trying not to think about it,” she says. “But with the quality of childcare when we even get it – it’s stressful. I think about how my son is going to be affected because he’s used to my mom, and then he’s gonna be in a whole new environment.”

Leslie Zaragoza is a 27-year-old mother to a two-year-old. She and her husband are currently paying $400/month out of pocket to her mother-in-law and sister for childcare, and unfortunately, their cost just went up as they’ve had to move to a non-family provider. Zaragoza will now be paying $560/month to an at-home daycare, or $6,720/year. That’s a major increase for her family. They’ve moved in with her mom to save for a house, but are finding it hard to do so without sacrificing their son’s well being.

“It’s important for him to be in a daycare where he’s not just being watched but being taught,” she says. “I feel like all the daycares that offer education are a lot more expensive. It’s just frustrating not to be able to be able to afford a childcare where your child can get an education.”

She’s already seen behavioral issues with her son as a result of the instability of his childcare. While the financial burden is huge on her family, Zaragoza hopes her son will benefit from not bouncing around between providers anymore.

According to Ignatius, the current system “puts low-income families in a tough spot because it’s not great for provider,” who “have to take a gamble” on parents with subsidized care, knowing there’s a good chance they won’t get paid by the agencies for any number of reasons.

“It doesn’t benefit them to have these families, but those families need childcare,” she says.

However, providers often step up, sacrificing their own livelihoods by continuing to provide care for children even when parents can’t pay on time or subsidy agencies have their check on hold. And they do it because they’ve forged a tight bond with both parents and the children. There’s love there, and trust, despite a system that fails them both.

If you try to make childcare more affordable on the parents’ side, then it’s coming out of the pay that goes to the providers. Or on the flip side, if you increase pay to providers, you may have to pass on those costs to the parents,” says Ignatius. 

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

“We’re in this system that’s pitting each side against each other and that’s wrong. And that’s why we need government intervention.”

Still, there have been some successes in the fight for childcare access. In California, the governor approved state funding of $25 million to help families remain eligible for childcare subsidies. They’ve raised the State Median Income (SMI) so working parents can accept a raise or promotion without losing their subsidized childcare. Families who are eligible for affordable childcare will now also remain eligible for 12 months, even if there’s a change in need or their income, unless their income goes over 85 percent of the current SMI.

That means less unnecessary paperwork that bogs down the entire system, from provider and parents, to employers and school and agency administrators who all have to fill out paperwork for one child to receive care. Parents previously had to go through the process every four months, sometimes with multiple employers that have multiple jobs. With this change, which goes into effect next month, there will be more stability for parents children and providers, and less disruption of both care and pay.

“It was all an attempt to catch someone in a lie; someone frauding the system,” says Ignatius. “In fact, agencies reported that the majority of their case load was still eligible after year, despite having to chase people down for documentation. There really was no need to require that. Providers also caught in middle because if documents are not filed, providers don’t get paid.”

It’s a step in the right direction; a necessary stitch in a bleeding wound. Parents, providers, and organizers are fighting hard to improve the system for all. But there’s still much more that needs to be won. It’s all so providers and families can thrive, and children can grow healthier and have greater opportunities. It’s about breaking the systemic cycles that keep them perpetually at a disadvantage, unable to gain the opportunities this country promises to those who work hard and dream for more. Their dreams are basic, and it’s up to the government to decide if they can reach them.


READ: Meet The Organizers Fighting For Childcare Providers Who Are Struggling To Get By

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A New Investigation Uncovered Another 1500 Children Separated By Trump Zero Tolerance Policy

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A New Investigation Uncovered Another 1500 Children Separated By Trump Zero Tolerance Policy

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During two months in 2018, the Trump Administration inflicted the separation of undocumented families at the border who were seeking asylum or attempting to cross the southern country line. The policy was called “zero-tolerance,” and at the time of the announcement, former General Jeff Sessions firmly stated at the border that “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.” He also added, “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” That’s exactly what they did. When all was said in done, after the uproar of seeing crying children being taken away from their families and placed in cages, federal courts ordered the Trump Administration to end the policy. The government initially admitted that they had separated almost 3,000 kids from their parents. It turns out they were way, way off. 

A new report shows that the Trump Administration separated 1,556 more children on top of the 2,737 children they previously had admitted to releasing.

Credit: customsborder / Instagram

On Oct. 24, after a federal judge ordered the government to release data about the children that were separated in 2018 in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) finally got the figures after six months. 

“The Trump administration admitted to a federal court that it ripped an additional 1,556 parents and children from each other under its illegal family separation policy,” the ACLU said in a statement. 

The court order came after the ACLU sued the government for information on the children after an earlier report in which the government admitted they didn’t know exactly how many children were separated, but it was probably “thousands.”

Credit: customsborder / Instagram

In January, the Department of Health and Human Services and the inspector general said they couldn’t know for sure how many children were separated because they didn’t have proper records

“The total number and current status of all children separated from their parents or guardians by United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and referred to Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) care is unknown,” the report states. That report is what prompted the lawsuit from the ACLU demanding a thorough investigation to find those children. 

Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, had this reaction to the final figures: “It is shocking that 1,556 more families — including babies and toddlers — join the thousands of others already torn apart by this inhumane and illegal policy. Families have suffered tremendously, and some may never recover. The gravity of this situation cannot be overstated.”

The ACLU has been diligently working hard on finding the children and also suing the government for the trauma they caused the separated families.

Credit: customsborder / Instagram

The ACLU filed the class action lawsuit — Ms. L v. ICE — against the government for illegally separating families and instilling lifelong trauma on the victims. 

“The suffering and trauma inflicted on these little children and parents is horrific,” Gelernt said in a statement. “Tragically, it could take years for these families to heal. Some may never recover, but we are fighting to give them a chance.”

The “Zero-Tolerance” Policy began in April 2018 and was forced to end in June 2018. In just that short time, so much damage was caused on vulnerable people seeking asylum. 

While the policy was supposed to end in June of 2018, it was reported that families were still being separated long after that. A New York Times article said that at least 900 families were separated after June 2018.

Credit: customsborder / Instagram

“The administration is still doing family separation under the guise that they are protecting children from their parents, even though the criminal history they are citing is either wrong or shockingly minor,” Gelernt told the New York Times in July. “This is just circumventing the court’s order.”

During a panel at a Forbes event, former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was in charge during this period, said she had no regrets over making sure the “zero-tolerance” policy was being enforced because she was doing her job. The only reason she left her post was that she was saying “no” too much. 

“I don’t regret enforcing the law, because I took an oath to do that,” Nielsen said, according to CNN. She added that she was there to “enforce the law, not to separate families.”

READ: Government Officials Report That Reuniting Separated Families Will Take Two Years

The Little Girl Crying For Her Father After An ICE Raid In Mississippi Has Finally Been Reunited With Him

Things That Matter

The Little Girl Crying For Her Father After An ICE Raid In Mississippi Has Finally Been Reunited With Him

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Credit: Twitter/ @KNX1070

In August, an appalling scene came out of the small town of Morton, Mississippi, where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained more than 600 people. ICE agents suspected that after a yearlong investigation, Koch Foods (a food processing plant) had hired hundreds of undocumented people. On the morning of Aug. 7, after many of the workers had dropped off their children at school, they went to work as usual only to be detained by immigration agents. The people were instructed to get on a bus where they would be taken to a detention center. Many of the children didn’t have a ride after school and were left without their parents. One little girl, in particular, captured the heart of many. 

A young girl made national news when she cried out for her dad, who had been detained by ICE. Now, three months later, he has been released. 

Magdalena Gomez Gregorio pleaded on television that she wanted her dad back and that he was not a criminal. The poor girl could bearly speak because she was so emotional. Gomez Gregorio was one of several kids who were left without their parents in what was viewed as the most massive raid in the country’s history.  

“Government, please show some heart,” the 11-year-old girl said in August, according to WJTV. “Let my parent be free and everyone else, please don’t leave the child with cryness [sic] and everything. I need my dad … he’s not a criminal.”

At least 680 people were detained in August. ICE, in a rare move, said they would release at least one parent if both parents were arrested, so the children wouldn’t be completely alone. 

Credit: @astroehlein / Twitter

A couple of days after the raid, the Department of Justice in Mississippi said they would release 30 people based on “humanitarian grounds,” but it was unclear if one of Gomez Gregorio’s parents was released during that time. 

“As part of HSI procedures pursuant to this operation, if HSI encountered two alien parents with minor children at home, HSI released one of the parents on humanitarian grounds and returned that individual to the place from which they were arrested. HSI similarly released any single alien parent with minor children at home on humanitarian grounds and physically returned that person to the place where he or she was originally detained. Based on these procedures, it is believed that all children were with at least one of their parents as of last night,” the Department of Justice in Mississippi stated

The little girl’s dad, Andres Gomez-Jorge, was finally released from detention after his friends and family raised $7,500 for his bond.

Credit: @PNS_News / Twitter

CNN reports that the family is back together again, including with their mom. The main problem now is that they both are out of work. According to the network, Gomez-Jorge has to support his family of six, and as of now, are only surviving from generous donations. 

While agents say, they had been investigating the food plant for a year, after detaining more than 600 people, only 11 people were prosecuted. 

Owners of the food plant, the ones responsible for doing the hiring, were never charged for their participation in hiring people with fraudulent information. 

Credit: @newfoodeconomy / Twitter

“These are not new laws, nor is the enforcement of them new,” then-acting ICE director Matt Albence said in August, according to CNN. 

“The arrests today were the result of a year-long criminal investigation. And the arrests and warrants that were executed today are just another step in that investigation.”

However, not much came out of that raid that instilled fear in the Latino community. We should note that the ICE raid in Mississippi occurred just days after the El Paso shooting that left 22 people dead and another 24 injured. 

READ: Two Kids Were Left Alone For Eight Days After Their Parents Were Detained In The Mississippi ICE Raids