An article on day-care service in Monday's Washington Business section should have said the Child Care Food Program of the Department of Agriculture was cut by 10 percent from fiscal 1981 to fiscal 1982.
More than 63 percent of women in the Washington area work outside the home, the largest percentage in the country, according to the 1980 census. And as more families find both parents in the labor market because of economics or personal choice, the need for affordable child care has intensified.
But the recession and federal budget cuts have favored centers catering to upper-middle-class families--those with mothers who are going back to work to supplement family income or from personal choice--and hurt centers that cater to lower- and middle-income families whose mothers have lost jobs, forcing many children out of day care programs. These lower- and middle-income centers, dependent on District and federal programs for much of their funding, are having a more difficult time staying open.
"The president took them away," said Lillian Jackson, director of Jackson's Tiny Tot Nursery, referring to several neighborhood centers that have closed recently in Southeast Washington.
There are 250 licensed organizations in the District providing day care to children 6 years old and younger, although many do not accept children under 2. These nonprofit centers are either independent, affiliated with a church or other school, or part of an umbrella child-care group.
There are two primary sources that allocate money to day-care centers in metropolitan Washington.
Both, the federally funded Child Care Food Program and the D.C. Department of Human Services, have had their budgets cut in the past year and would absorb even further cuts if their funding were transferred to block grants as proposed under the president's "New Federalism" program.
The Child Care Food Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was cut from $333.8 million in fiscal 1981 to $298.4 million in fiscal '82, a 30 percent reduction. "The biggest impact has been in the Child Care Food Program," said Helen Taylor, director of National Capital Area Child Day Care, whose organization, with 20 centers serving 1,200 children, is one of the largest providers of day care in the city. "All the centers are suffering."
The program, also known as the food reimbursement plan, assists schools and other child-care centers in feeding the children.
Along with changes in the amount of money available, the complex formulas through which funding has been calculated was also changed from the "tier" method in 1981 to the "blended" method that went into effect in January.
The tier method basically classified the child in one of three categories: free, reduced cost, or full-reimbursement. The amount reimbursed to the center depended on how many children fell into each category.
Under the new "blended" reimbursement plan, centers must multiply the cost of the meal by the number of children receiving it in each of the three categories, and divide that by the number of children participating in the program.
The change in reimbursment formulas has confused both the child-care center officials and the administrations that allocate money to them. "A lot of the day-care centers don't understand what we are reimbursing," said Barbara Smith, director of the D.C. Child Care Food Program. "They are supposed to have the financial capability to carry on the responsibility" of the food service without federal funds. Smith said that although she has tried to explain the reimbursement program to the directors of these centers many times since January, they still don't understand it and they didn't understand the tier method, either.
The District spends a little over $6 million for day care through its Department of Human Services. Overall, DHS lost $2 million in federal funds last year, but through revenue raised locally, the City Council was able to grant a slight increase in the department's funding. "We didn't lose anything, but we couldn't expand" day-care services, according to Annie Goodson, administrator of the Family Services Administration, which oversees day care here.
"The program is not 100 percent of what it should be," Goodson added. Without these funds, she said, the city has been unable to improve services for handicapped children, or add programs for parents looking for work, or for children whose parents are in "crisis" situations.
Goodson emphasized that the economy, and unemployment in particular, have indirectly affected day-care service in the city. Parents "have been laid off, and when they've been laid off they can't afford to bring the children" to a day-care center, explained Willie Lyles, assistant manager at the Academy for Learning in Southeast. Her center has lost 25 of 50 children in the last year alone. "If it continues like this, we won't be around," she said.
Increasing rents and other costs are forcing families to tighten budgets, and day care often suffers, added Goodson. Even with DHS subsidies, she said, $5 that might have been spent on day care in better economic times "goes a long way towards feeding a family."
Not only are day-care centers that service low-income families experiencing a drop in enrollment, but so are those for middle-income families. Enrollment at the Foggy Bottom Child Development Center is down because "times are so hard," said center director Carolyn Page. The cost for child care at Foggy Bottom is $240 a month, a far cry from those centers that get DHS subsidies, but according to Page, the emphasis is not so much on babysitting, as with many centers, but on academics.
Page said the center also is losing enrollment from families that have more than one child in need of day care. Even though parents of her students are mostly upper-middle-class, Page said many cannot afford to send more than one child to a center such as hers.