Budget Stalemate Shuts Down Daycares

September 2, 2008 8:48:14 PM PDT
The state budget stalemate is now in record territory at day 64 and the trouble is trickling down to hundreds of people in the Central Valley. Eight state-funded daycare centers couldn't open today because they have no money.I-5 Social Services ran out of money last week because the $5.8 million annual budget from the state hasn't come. Executive director Alex Valdez says the non-profit has spent its $1 million rainy day fund and it can't get a loan. Non-profits often have trouble getting bank loans because they don't have much to offer as collateral.

So Tuesday, for the first time since they started serving the valley in 1998, the I-5 daycare centers didn't open.

An empty classroom and an abandoned playground are signs pointing to an interruption at Madera's I-5 childcare center. The same scene repeated itself across the valley at eight different daycare centers, leaving more than 700 kids with nowhere to go, 200 employees with nowhere to work, and many parents with no way to earn a living. Manuel Rodriguez, for one, had to skip work and stay with his son, John. "It's a day off and there's going to be more days off," he said. "That means no income. That means still struggling."

Childcare providers say they're concerned about the kids missing out on their education. But even worse, they're worried about where the kids will spend their days. "A lot of our parents are field workers," said I-5 childcare provider Sara Carranza. "They have to take their kids in the car and leave them in the car in this heat to be able to work."

Many of the parents and teachers protested Tuesday outside the Fresno office of Republican Assembly leader Mike Villines. They're blaming Republicans for holding up the budget, even though last week, Villines tried to pass a stopgap bill that would have kept I-5 in business, as legislators did during a similar budget stalemate ten years ago. "In 1998, we passed a bill that made sure essential services were maintained," said Villines. "So senior facilities, medical facilities, children, health care, children centers and foster kids. Things like that are maintained and they're not held hostage to a budget delay like this."

Villines said emergency funding could keep essential services afloat until November, but Democrats have said the best way to fund childcare is to pass a new budget. At I-5, they're hoping that happens very soon. "We're all waiting very impatiently to go back to work," said I-5 childcare provider Marjorie Nielsen. "We want to be there with our children and our families."

Ironically, the 200 teachers who had no job to go to are all planning to file for unemployment benefits. So, in the end, the state will still be funding them.

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