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Need A Child Care Subsidy? This Mom Would Tell You Not To Hold Your Breath


To another story now, finding quality, affordable child care, which can be tough, especially for families living paycheck-to-paycheck. Every state in the country follows - every state in the country offers federally subsidized child care, which is meant to offset some of the costs. But only about 1 in 6 kids who qualify for the care actually receive it. From member station KQED, Katie Orr reports on what daily life is like for one mom on the waitlist for subsidized child care.

KATIE ORR, BYLINE: It's 5:30 in the morning, and like every weekday, Jacquelyne Gettone is up preparing for the day. She quickly irons the blazer she'll wear to work and the shirt her 2-year-old son, Matthew, will wear to day care. Before too long, she hears Matthew crying in the bedroom, and she goes to scoop him out of bed.

JACQUELYNE GETTONE: Good morning, Matty (ph).


GETTONE: Come on, Papa.

ORR: The toddler is still sleepy and a bit fussy. But there's little time to ease him into the day. They need to be out the front door by 6. She takes Matthew to a day care she can afford about 30 minutes away. She works in downtown Oakland, another 40 minutes away from there. Without a car, they face a complex commute involving a combination of Uber rides and commuter train trips that can take anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

GETTONE: In between waiting on Ubers, depending on if an Uber is three minutes away or 20 minutes away, it's, like, a gamble.

ORR: After a short ride to the station, Gettone hurries to catch her train. Little Matthew has chosen this very moment to have a meltdown, as 2-year-olds do.

MATTHEW: (Crying).

GETTONE: I feel like that too, sometimes.

ORR: So Gettone picks him up while I grab the toddler-sized car seat she carries with her each day. She sprints down the stairs to the train and just barely makes it. As she and Matthew settle in, I have to wonder, how does she do this each day on her own?

But while she's alone in handling her daily commute, Gettone is not alone in waiting for a subsidy that would help her afford child care. Katie Hamm, with the Center for American Progress, says in most of the country, it costs about $10,000 a year to enroll a child in a day care center. And she says a lot of people just can't afford that without subsidies.

KATIE HAMM: So in nearly every state there is either a long waiting list or there are just a lot of families turned away, and the state doesn't even bother keeping a waiting list.

ORR: For Gettone, a subsidy could help her save money for other things, like a car. But it's unlikely she'll receive one. Matthew's been on the waiting list for over a year. Her 12-year-old daughter, Margeaux, has been waiting since she was a baby and never got off the waitlist. Hamm says that's also a common occurrence. One reason for that, there simply aren't enough child care providers.

HAMM: There's not a lot of profit to be made in child care. So to operate a child care, to have highly qualified teachers and a curriculum and materials, is an expensive proposition.

ORR: In fact, Hamm says, about half of Americans live in child care deserts, where the need for care far outweighs the supply of licensed care providers. But while the picture looks bleak, there may be some reason for hope. Child care is still a rare bipartisan issue in Congress. As part of a two-year federal spending agreement in 2018, lawmakers allocated about $5 billion to support state-subsidized child care, the largest ever increase. This year, Congress is proposing an additional 2.4 billion. For NPR News, I'm Katie Orr in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.