Bill would support child care at home

Reform of the country’s welfare system was a necessity agreed upon by both the government and welfare recipients. Reform, although imperfect, is now under way. Lawmakers erred, however, by making debt reduction the focus of reform. Drastic budget cuts have put welfare and recipients in unstable positions. Half of all welfare recipients are younger than 18 or older than 65, with children making up about 40 percent. Consequently, lawmakers attempting to modify reform efforts must make sure budget cuts won’t be adopted at the expense of the country’s children.
States have some power in creating a more responsive system. In the Minnesota Legislature, for instance, an amendment to the Senate Family and Early Childhood Education Omnibus Bill would allow more parents to stay at home and take care of their children. Although the omnibus bill was passed last week, the amendment’s implementation has been delayed until the Minnesota Department of Human Services can study the plan. The amendment would allow parents to use child care subsidies to care for their children at home. Under the plan, parents who care for children at home would get 75 percent of the amount of aid allotted for parents who send their children to day-care centers.
This is a bipartisan effort that satisfies conservatives’ emphasis on family values and liberals’ focus on social services. Such realistic measures will be necessary if welfare reform is to truly respond to the needs of recipients. The plan raises questions about tax liability and how people would get involved. The human services department should pay careful attention to the proposal’s repercussions on the welfare system. But the plan’s merits and potential benefits outweigh those concerns, and this should be recognized.
Although the plan may be most feasible for two-parent families, it does acknowledge the importance of home caretakers and child care workers. Historically, the recognition of women’s caretaker role began with mothers’ pension laws adopted by many states early in the century. The laws provided funds for widows working at home with dependent children. Today, women struggle with the choice between working and staying at home. Women have fought for the opportunity to work in gratifying careers, and they have fought for recognition of their careers in the home. Whether father or mother, the choice to work or stay at home is more than a question of principle. It is a matter of what works for individuals.
The realities of life for working parents necessitate diverse child-care opportunities if commitment to the welfare of children is to be maintained. About 90 percent of the parents receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children are single parents. The struggle to live at the poverty level while maintaining a steady job, adequate health care, transportation and security often obstruct the parents’ ability to work. The welfare system should fit particular needs as well as the situation. The proposal in the Legislature to support parents who choose to care for children at home is the kind of pragmatic idea that will be necessary in Minnesota’s creation of working welfare reform.