MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Child care providers, mothers and the concerned public gathered Friday morning in front of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library to rally against West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed budget cuts to child care subsidies to poor working families.
With $800 million in the state’s “Rainy Day” fund, Melissa Holman, director of Shepherdstown Day Care, is dismayed by the governor’s decision that would affect more than 50 percent of the families that receive a subsidy for child care services through the state’s Mountain Heart program.
“This program supports our working poor,” Holman said. “These cuts have the potential to close our doors.”
She said with the help of legislators, she is hoping the state can find other ways to balance the budget than cutting child care.
Michele Gallihugh, president of the Regional Director’s Association of the Eastern Panhandle Child Care Centers, said beginning Aug. 1, child care copayments will increase from 5 percent to 12 percent, which will more than double the cost of child care for low-income families.
Also on Aug. 1, Mountain Heart will begin a freeze on services and accept no new clients, Gallihugh said.
And in January, the current income requirement of 185 percent above the poverty level will drop to 150 percent above the poverty level, and those families no longer will be eligible for the state child care subsidy.
Bonnie Zampino of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., a single mother with an 8-year-old child with autism, is against the child care cuts.
She said working mothers with autistic children earn about 56 percent less than “healthy children’s moms” because of the child’s medical expenses.
“We have to work because we need the insurance,” Zampino said.
She was happy to learn that the W.Va. legislature passed a law requiring insurance companies to cover medical and therapeutic services for those with autism.
“I was thrilled, but now with the governor freezing new child care subsidies, this negates it for a lot of families.”
Zampino plans to open a child care center next month for special needs children, but the proposed budget cuts might change that.
State Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said the legislators were not aware of the governor’s decision and he has spoken with Tomblin and other legislators to discuss the matter further.
“The freeze needs to be lifted immediately,” Snyder said.
He said the state child care budget of $5.6 million remained the same for the past three years. State general revenue funds have been supplemented each year by $110 million in federal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) carryover funds.
Beginning in 2008, there was $58 million in TANF funds, which has been “steadily” used to pay for social services and child care, and now it’s gone, Snyder said, “so the budget for child care is naturally less. “
Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, was unable to attend the rally, but he said by phone that he found out about the child care cuts three weeks ago.
“The cuts by the federal government is what we’re reacting to,” he said.
Unger said the legislature has to come up with proposals that can be discussed and debated. “We’ve got to find a funding source,” he said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. We can move this forward, handle it and get it right,” he said.
Democratic candidate for the 63rd District Donn Marshall said the program helps working families, and it teaches their kids the value of hard work.
“We’re going to balance our budget on the backs of working families and children? I don’t think so,” said Marshall, who vowed to fight it.
Democratic candidates Jason Barrett of the 61st District and Howard Swint, who is running against U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also spoke against the child care subsidy cuts.
“We’re not going to put up with this. This is not the end; it’s the beginning,” Barrett said.
“We stand united. We represent all child care and we are going to Charleston in two weeks,” Gallihugh said.