State Funds to Keep Kids in Day Care

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) came to Fairfax County yesterday with $3.7 million in hand for a child-care program endangered by changes in federal welfare policy.

"I view this as an emergency," said Kaine, surrounded by state and local officials and about a dozen fidgety preschoolers at a Reston day-care center.

Kaine said he used surpluses from other social programs to assemble the payment -- about $4 million in all -- which includes money for other localities. The action does not require legislative approval.

For the past several years, Virginia has used state and federal money to subsidize day care for about 6,000 children of single, working parents who had made it off the welfare rolls. When Congress tightened work requirements this year for those still on welfare, the state decided to use its money to help them find child care.

But the actions still left funding uncertain for day care for about 1,900 children.

Kaine asked the General Assembly in the spring to use some of the state's budget surplus to make up the losses. The GOP-led House of Delegates rejected the request.

Yesterday, House Republicans pointed to the $4 million transfer as evidence that Kaine is not committed to funding transportation projects unless taxes are raised.

"Northern Virginia's commuters are sitting in traffic, and Governor Kaine wants citizens to pay for baby-sitting," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William).

Kaine said $4 million wouldn't cover any road or highway project of consequence.

The child-care subsidy also continued a minor war of words between Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford).

Howell suggested last month that the county is wealthy enough to subsidize day care without state aid. Connolly called the statement "Darwinian" and wrote in an Oct. 30 letter that it was an example of how state lawmakers shortchange Northern Virginia families while expecting them to support less prosperous regions with tax dollars.

Howell wrote back Wednesday, saying that Connolly's claim "trivializes the significant investment the commonwealth makes to the county each year." He added that Fairfax was alerted last year that the federal day-care funding was vulnerable but waited until the eleventh hour to seek help.

County spokeswoman Mernie Fitzgerald confirmed that Fairfax was notified in 2005 but said the county was told that the state would work to find alternative funding. When Congress changed welfare-to-work requirements this year, she said, the county "made sure the needs of Fairfax County citizens were well known" to state lawmakers.

At the Lowell Learning Center, Kaine acknowledged that his subsidy was at best a stopgap measure to help those already enrolled to continue in day care for at least another year. It creates no new openings for the 3,200 kids on a waiting list.

As Kaine wound up his comments, the children assembled for the cameras began to stretch and yawn. A few were already splayed at his feet.

"Apparently my speech has now made it nap time," the governor observed.

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