Reporting from Sacramento — Upset that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed $256 million in child-care money for the poor, the state Assembly leader announced a proposal Monday to go around the governor and restore funding until a new chief executive takes office in January.
The program pays child-care costs for working parents who take jobs to move off welfare but can't afford day care. The governor's action means child care for 60,000 families will end Nov. 1 unless a stopgap measure is found.
It would cost $60 million to extend the program through Jan. 1, after which the new Legislature could try to pass a measure to restore full funding, according to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles).
In the meantime, Pérez said Monday, he will contribute $6 million from the Assembly's own operating budget — a highly unusual move — and he hopes the rest will come from groups including First 5 California, a state preschool program funded by a cigarette tax that voters approved in 1998.
"I think the worst thing we could do would be to ask people living on the margin who need this child care to wait until January to figure out how to take care of their families,'' Pérez said.
First 5 Commissioner Conway Collis said he supports the idea of his panel putting up a substantial part of the funding and is calling for an emergency commission meeting to determine how much it can provide.
"I was stunned by this cut," said Collis, a hospital-system attorney in Los Angeles County, where Schwarzenegger's veto will affect 11,700 families.
"Here we have families who are working their way off welfare and now we're putting them in a position of staying employed without safe, quality child care or leaving their job and going back on the welfare rolls,'' Collis added.
Other members of the seven-member commission could not be reached for comment or declined to address the proposal until it is formalized.
Though it remains to be seen whether the panel will approve funding, it has reserves. Last year, the group provided $81 million to prevent cuts in a state program providing health insurance to children. The state First 5 commission and its branches in California's 58 counties receive about $480 million annually from the 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes.
The Assembly's $6-million contribution would keep the program going for about a week. Although the First 5 Commission is meeting Wednesday, procedural requirements would prevent it from acting on Collis' proposal until early November.
"I don't know the precise amount or the extent of the shortfall that can be addressed by First 5, but I do know that it's critically important First 5 immediately analyze how much can be provided ... and would move to implement that as soon as possible,'' Collis said.
Nicole Radenburg of Van Nuys said loss of the child-care funding would be a financial hardship for her.
"It affects me extremely,'' said Radenburg, who has been able to hold a customer service job with a construction company because the state helps with child care for her 2-year-old daughter. Radenburg said she was proud that she has been off public assistance for more than two years.
"I might end up back at the county offices, getting food stamps and cash aid,'' she said.
A representative of the governor said he recognizes that the veto will negatively affect many people but added the Legislature did not take the action needed to put the state's finances in order, including a sufficient emergency fund allocation.
"The reserve for the budget sent to the governor was unacceptably low, which was why he was compelled to veto $1 billion to restore it,'' said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.