While the national political spotlight has faded from Mississippi since the primary vote, its poorest families are now getting the wrong kind of attention from Washington: The US Commission on Civil Rights has issued a scathing report detailing how both childcare providers and families are systematically cheated out of their entitled social welfare resources.
According to a probe by the commission’s Mississippi State Advisory Committee, black communities have been deprived of essential federal childcare supports due to funding formulas and practices that have in effect punished black families and the childcare centers serving them. An investigative report issued by the commission late last year strongly indicts state-level policies that have led to the systematic exclusion of low-income black families from subsidized childcare: for example, overly stringent screening rules that shut out needy families, imposing bureaucratic barriers on single black mothers in particular. Meanwhile, rigid antifraud and “quality” control measures have disproportionately marginalized black-owned and -operated childcare providers through discriminatory regulations, according to community advocates. The Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative reported that “124,426 children in Mississippi under the age of six were potentially eligible” for federal childcare services, “yet on average 18,300, or 14.7 percent, actually received this assistance each month.” Statewide, the level of overall funding for early childhood programming declined by 30 percent, yet individual kids were even more disproportionately harmed, as “services to children have been reduced by 46.”
So the state, one of the poorest and blackest in the union, was actually shoving the burden of education cuts onto the very children it was supposed to educate.
Community advocates point to tragedies like Mississippi in calling for a dramatic overhaul of the deeply under-resourced federal childcare block grant system, which currently subsidizes more than 1.4 million kids. But Congress seems tone deaf to the families’ outcries.
Last month, lawmakers introduced legislation called the Child CARE Act, which aims to guarantee low-income families’ access to affordable, quality childcare by ramping up funds allotted to states, focusing on enhancing services for infants and toddlers, and the most disadvantaged children and communities. And the proposal would expand services during “unconventional hours,” to accommodate the “on demand” scheduling now common in low-wage sectors.