When I worked attended school, both full time, I received no assistance with childcare because according to federal guidelines I made too much money.
So I continued to work and pay for childcare, even though I had to pick up another job just to afford it. That didn’t leave me enough time to study, so I had to reduce my hours, which meant a reduction in pay too. Now, I am no longer able to afford to work and pay for childcare at the same time. Getting a job and pursuing an education is what we’re supposed to do, but it felt like I was being penalized for it.
Luckily, my family has been able to provide care for my daughter while I’m in school. But no one should have to go through what our family has, and I know we are not the only ones.
Only 11 percent of all eligible children receive federal childcare assistance in Iowa. That’s not to mention all the people like me who aren’t eligible, but need the help to finish their education and get ahead. Since 77 percent of Iowa children under six have working parents, or a working single parent, this is a huge problem. It’s not just in Iowa. Nationally, the majority of mothers work outside the home.
With childcare costs exceeding the cost of rent in many states, it’s not affordable for families in the middle class, and it’s impossible for those living paycheck to paycheck.
To make that case to a broad audience, I was given a unique opportunity about two months ago when canvasser with the Make It Work campaign knocked on my door. That ultimately led to a meeting with President Obama, although I had no idea that was even possible at the time.
I became an ambassador with the Make It Work campaign, and attended events with presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, asking exactly what she would do for hard working moms like me who struggle to balance work, childcare, and school. I hosted a community-centered roundtable discussion with local elected leaders, community activists, and other workers like me to share stories and strategies for successfully raising issues that should be a focus for our leaders.
My children deserve the opportunity to succeed, and it’s hard to imagine a parent who doesn’t feel the same way. That includes ensuring our kids are cared for in safe, nurturing, educational environments. Studies show that the first five years of a child’s life are critical to their ability to learn social and emotional skills, and prepare them to be good students and citizens as adults. And when parents know their children are in good hands, they’re more productive employees at work, which benefits their employers.
Childcare and early education must be a national economic priority. If our elected officials fail in providing solutions for access to quality, affordable childcare it’s working families that will continue paying the price for our failure to prioritize these issues. In this country we focus on family values, so it’s time to prove we value families.
President Obama told us he has 15 months left in his term, and that it was unlikely Congress would listen to him on any of these issues. He called on all of us to use our voice, because Congress still has to listen to their constituents, and it’s the only way change would happen. Opportunity was knocking again, this time the call to action was from the President himself.
When I heard the President, I felt he was counting on me and others like me to answer. We have to roll up our sleeves, and help families like mine in Iowa and all across the country Make It Work.
Rochean Cofield is an ambassador for the Make It Work campaign