For much of my adult working life, I worked minimum wage jobs, in retail stories and providing care to people with disabilities.
As a care provider, I earned $9 an hour to make sure the people I helped were safe and nurtured. In turn, I spent my income to pay for a safe home for my two children, to feed them the most nutritious foods I could afford and to clothe them.
Ironically, I could never afford to pay for child care for my own children.
I earned such a small living in those jobs. I qualified for $400 a month in cash assistance. The added resources helped my family keep the lights on and pay for utilities.
But they didn’t help me pay for child care. Depending on how much I made, I either was not eligible for state subsidies for child care or the state offered me such meager child care subsidies. I still could not afford to pay the remainder of the monthly cost.
Child care would have cost me about $400 a month to take care of my preschool-aged daughter and my 10-year-old son when he got out of school. The day care cost was roughly equal to what I received in cash assistance, which I needed as I juggled paying my other bills.
So my aging parents now take care of my children, while I work odd hours and out-of-state to try to earn enough money to adequately provide for my family.
But my daily struggle to work as a single mom and find care for my children pushed me to join the chorus of working parents and child care providers who are calling on state policy makers to invest in working families.
It is working.
About this time last year, it did not seem that way. Parents, care providers and community and business leaders fought to convince the Michigan Legislature to add $7 million to the state’s child care subsidy program so they could receive $20 in federal money for child care.
That kind of expansion would allow the state to increase individual subsidies to families like mine. Still, the Legislature voted against the increased spending.
That is when Michiganders of all walks – parents who want the best for their children, businesses that want the most productivity from their employees and advocates who say investing in our children has to start when they are young – dug in.
We held rallies and community meetings and called on legislators to show that they care about the state’s children. In February, Gov. Snyder released his budget for 2018 and it included $30 million more in state spending on child care, enough for the state to receive the full federal match.
In June, both state houses passed appropriation bills that more or less match the governor’s budget.
The expansion still is not anywhere near what families need, but it is a move to stop the attacks that over the last nine years gutted the state’s expenditure for child care from $516 million in 2006 to $143 million in 20015.
During that time, the number of children the state provided subsidies for plummeted from more than 87, 800 in 2006 to just 32,100 in 2015, according to a report from the Center for Law and Social Policy.
The year’s work – and results – has shown me my voice matters. Working families matter to Michigan. It is about time our elected leaders show they know we matter, too.
Ashley Daniels is a working mother and a community advocate in Detroit. She works with Michigan United, a grassroots organization, on quality and affordable child care for all Michigan children. This essay is courtesy of the Center for Community Change, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works to build capacity and power for low-income people, especially in communities of color.