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For everyone but the very richest and very poorest California families, child care and preschool are wildly unaffordable.

Here’s how my colleague Mario Koran has described the problem:

The bar to qualify for free preschool is so high under the current system that parents can be forced to choose between preschool and accepting a pay raise. In some cases, a family of four, where mom and dad are both working full time earning minimum wage, already make too much to qualify.

Indeed, with minimum wage increases kicking off in January, “what seems like a straightforward tool to make people richer can force them to make wrenching choices,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

“If I have to hear another parent tell me, ‘Unfortunately, I got a raise,’ ‘Unfortunately, I got a new job offer,’” said Mary Ignatius, a statewide organizer for Parent Voices. “It’s so heartbreaking that these families who are doing everything the state has told them to do come to a point where they feel it’s unfortunate that their hard work is being recognized, and that hard work could be a disincentive because they could lose their child care. We just want it to end. Now.”

Part of the problem is that the formula that determines who qualifies for child care subsidies hasn’t been updated in years. In high-cost areas like San Diego, that makes a tough situation even worse.

“There’s this huge donut hole between the level of family income where we choose to provide families with childcare subsidies and the family income level where you can actually afford market-rate child care,” said Laura Kohn, executive director of the Education Synergy Alliance and co-host of VOSD’s “Good School for All” podcast. “In higher-wage areas like San Diego, the freeze has been especially harmful.”

The average cost of care in many San Diego ZIP codes is around $200 a week, according to a YMCA database, but can be more than $400 a week in certain areas.

Two bills from San Diego lawmakers could bring relief to families struggling to pay for child care – and they offer remarkably similar approaches. One is AB 60 from Assemblyman Miguel Santiago and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the other is AB 231 from Assemblyman Rocky Chavez.

Both would update the formula so it’s based on the state’s current median income. Both would update the requirements so that families only have to submit their wage info every 12 months, instead of quarterly – something the federal government has said states should do. And both would let families phase out of the program once they receive a raise, instead of being cut off entirely once they make even a penny over the income cap.

People in the child care world believe that slow phase-out is essential: “In our world we call it the child care cliff. If a parent makes even a penny over that, they get cut off,” said Laurie Furstenfeld, an attorney with the Child Care Law Center, a sponsor of AB 60. The phase-out provides “a pathway for families to reach economic security rather than just falling off the cliff,” she said.

Since the bills overlap in many ways, Chavez’s chief of staff Michael Hadland told me that Chavez’s office has been in contact with Santiago and other stakeholders, “and we expect to meet with them over the next few weeks to see where we can work together.”

One of the ways in which Chavez’s bill is unique has advocates worried. It reduces the amount of time families are eligible for subsidies. The thinking, Chavez’s office said, was that it could save money, freeing up more subsidies for more families. But the savings don’t pencil out to as much as initially thought, so that piece is being taken out.

There’s another difference between the bills: Though they’d both update the formula so that it’s based on the current state median income, Chavez’s bill would actually raise the income cap from 70 percent to 75 percent. That would make far more families eligible.

Great news for families, right? Advocates say there’s a catch.

Even under the current standards, waiting lists for subsidized child care spots can be incredibly long.

“We just think it’s almost false hope that those families are ever going to receive a subsidy,” said Ignatius. “There already aren’t enough subsidies to go around.”

“We understand the concern because there are already waiting lists for currently eligible families, but we should not discourage progress in getting more families to set up access to quality child care,” Hadland said.

Even though a bill virtually identical to Santiago and Gonzalez Fletcher’s measure had overwhelming bipartisan support last year, it died in the Senate appropriations committee.

Furstenfeld told me she thinks there’s reason to be optimistic that AB 60 will make it across the finish line this year.

“I think it has a greater chance this year of passing because California has invested in building a more prosperous future for everyone statewide in raising the minimum wage, and that investment would be squandered if working parents lose their child care,” she said.

Lara, Atkins Aim High, Unveil Single-Payer Health Care Plan

Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins announced a new bill to provide universal health care coverage in California.

The official bill language isn’t up yet, but the so-called intent language — the preliminary description of what the authors want to accomplish  — says it would “establish a comprehensive universal single-payer health care coverage program and a health care cost control system for the benefit of all residents in the state.”

Atkins told the Mercury News in a statement: “In light of threats to the Affordable Care Act, it’s important that we are looking at all options to continue to  expand and maintain access to health care. The Healthy California Act is an essential part of that conversation.”

The ambitious idea has been tried before. “Single-payer legislation has been introduced many times in the state,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “The Legislature became the first in the country to pass a single-payer bill in 2006, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.” The Mercury News says “the idea has periodically gained traction” over the last few years.

Big Day for Bills

If you feel like you’ve been reading about a lot of new bills lately, you’re right. Friday is the last day for new bills to be introduced in the Assembly. The early deadline is the main argument for the so-called gut-and-amend rule, which allows lawmakers to scrape all the language out of an existing bill after the deadline has passed, and replace it with something totally different. It’s basically a way to introduce a new bill after the deadline to introduce new bills.

This year, however, things will be a bit different.

California voters passed Proposition 54 in November, a measure aimed at scaling back gut-and-amend. Before, lawmakers might be forced to vote on a bill that had been gutted and amended only a few hours earlier — meaning they might be voting before they’d had a chance to even read it.

Under Proposition 54, the text of every bill must be published in print and online for at least 72 hours before legislators can hold a vote.

Water Problems Here, Water Problems There

San Diego legislators this week tackled one water problem up north, and one down south.

In response to the evacuations caused by flooding and concerns about the safety of the Oroville Dam outside of Sacramento, Assemblyman Todd Gloria introduced a bill to make it easier for Californians to continue receiving welfare, even if they have been displaced by a disaster. It also requires welfare agencies to plan more for disasters.

After the San Yisdro School District announced it was providing students at three schools with bottled water because tests showed lead in their drinking water, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher proposed regular testing for lead at public schools. The State Water Resources Control Board is funding a similar program, but it is only voluntary and expires in fall 2019.

Ry Rivard

Bills Reflect Changing Attitudes on Gender

In an in-depth story exploring a new generation’s unique approach to gender, KQED says we’re entering a “transformational stage” that involves “the splintering of what heretofore has been one of the most resilient organizing principles of American society — the division of the entire human race into male and female.”

The story mentions two pieces of legislation from San Diego lawmakers that reflect changing attitudes: The California Healthy Youth Act, written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and signed into law in 2015, requires public schools to teach comprehensive sex education that includes teaching “about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and explore the harm of negative gender stereotypes.” And a bill introduced this session by Sen. Toni Atkins “would make the state the first to recognize ‘nonbinary’ as a legal gender.”

On top of that bill, Atkins also introduced this week a measure that would make it easier for prisoners to legally change their names and genders.

San Diego Reps in the News

• The Union-Tribune notes that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez solicited so-called behested payments — usually charitable donations from big companies — to her now-husband’s charity. The U-T quotes an expert who admitted he’d never heard of behested payments but then goes on to express concern about them. As we reported in 2015, San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein has brought in far more behested payments than any official in the state.

• Assemblyman Randy Voepel wrote an op-ed talking up his bill that would let private companies give hiring preference to veterans.

• After the devastating crash in which an allegedly drunk motorist careened off the Coronado Bridge, killing several people in Chicano Park, Sen. Ben Hueso said safety improvements to the bridge was his top priority. This week, his office sent out an update detailing a number of safety measures CalTrans plans to take, including flashing LED lights to slow drivers and an assessment of other measures to address cars veering off the bridge. Hueso also said he plans to introduce a bill this week “to ensure that funding is available at the state for the bridge improvements, pending the results of the CHP investigation.”

Golden State News

• The state’s roads have never been in worse shape, says a former CalTrans director. (L.A. Times)

• California’s progressive climate laws obscure “oil’s enduring power in the Golden State.” (The Nation)

• Colorado’s legalized marijuana rollout hasn’t been perfect – and Gov. John Hickenlooper thinks California can learn from his state’s mistakes. (Associated Press)

• The California Dream ain’t what it used to be. (CalMatters)

Correction: An earlier version of this post said AB 2150 died in the Assembly appropriations committee. It died in the Senate appropriations committee.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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