Brandy Davis had a question. She asked it before she pulled her three-year-old twins out of their day care at Second Baptist Church. She asked it before she quit her job at the temp agency. She asked it in messages she sent to every government official she had ever heard of.
Brandy Davis, a welfare reform success story who now has no way to afford a thousand dollars a month in child care costs, has a question.
Brandy Davis" child care vouchers, the help that allowed her to get off welfare and have her kids cared for while she worked, have been terminated. She and the low-income parents of 6700 other Indiana children received a letter last month from Governor Frank O"Bannon"s Family and Social Services Administration telling them the agency was cutting off their child care assistance. So Brandy Davis, a welfare reform success story who now has no way to afford a thousand dollars a month in child care costs, had a question. "I was paying taxes every week out of my paycheck," she asked. "Where are all those tax dollars going?" She never got an answer to her question. Maybe that is because an honest answer would go back to the landmark tax and budget restructuring bill that Governor O"Bannon and the General Assembly pushed through last spring. A year ago, corporations were complaining that Indiana had an unfair tax system. Homeowners were concerned that their property tax bills would soon be going up. Lawmakers responded: corporate gross income taxes were eliminated, as was the business inventory tax. Homeowners" property taxes were reduced. To offset these reductions, low-income Hoosiers will feel the effects of increased sales and gas taxes. Many will also face rent hikes due to property tax increases. This new tax structure thrilled the Governor. "This is the most monumental legislative package passed in the more than 30 years I"ve been in public life," O"Bannon said. "Lawmakers can be proud to have voted for legislation that will make a positive difference in the lives of so many Hoosiers." Perhaps. But Brandy Davis" life is a little short on positive differences right now. Indiana"s weak commitment Brandy Davis" child care voucher was taken away because tough economic times have put thousands more Indiana families on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). The increased welfare rolls drain money from a fixed amount of funds devoted to child care assistance when the welfare rolls were low. Families with incomes at 140% or less of the federal poverty line ($21,028 for a family of three) once were eligible for child care help, but O"Bannon has now lowered the ceiling to 127% of the poverty line. The 6700 kids cut off child care vouchers, including Brandy Davis" twins, belong to families caught in that gap. Indiana"s welfare money comes from the federal government, where legislation that would reauthorize the TANF and Child Care Development Block Grant programs is now stalled in the U.S. Senate. "If federal funding isn"t increased, it"s likely there will be much more significant cuts in Indiana"s child care assistance next year," says Family and Social Services spokesperson Cynthia Collier. Much of Brandy Davis" fate rests in the hands of the Congress, where federal lawmakers have been slow to help the low-income working mothers they cheerfully booted off welfare a few years ago. But the responsibility does not end at the federal level. High quality child care, which has been proven to allow families to keep jobs and children to better prepare for school, should be a priority for state government, too. Maybe even as much of a priority as eliminating the business inventory tax. If they are willing, the Governor and the newly elected General Assembly can do something about Brandy Davis" problem. There is precedent. Other states, including big ones like New York and California, face the same sort of pressure on their TANF budget as Indiana, but have refused to cut child care assistance. And even though federal dollars are the primary source of child care funds, other states like Wisconsin have traditionally exceeded federal matching fund requirements and used state revenue to provide more care. Not Indiana. According to Helen Blank, child care director for the Children"s Defense Fund, Indiana is one of the worst states for helping parents like Brandy Davis. Blank says 44 states have invested state revenue to create pre-kindergarten care programs, but Indiana has not. "It"s not just these recent budget problems," she says. "Indiana"s commitment to child care was weak in the first place." In contrast, Indiana"s commitment to owners of businesses and luxury homes remains strong. Thanks to Indiana lawmakers, they are better off now than they were a year ago. Brandy Davis, who doesn"t own a home and now doesn"t even have a job, is not. "I don"t have any family here who can watch my kids," she says. "I don"t want to go back on TANF, but I"ll most likely have to. And then they"ll be complaining because people are back on welfare again."