As the Connecticut government looks to remedy its budget deficit by cutting state funding, local officials are working hard to prevent early childhood programs from being left out to dry.

On Tuesday night, about 20 community members attended a public hearing with the New Haven Board of Alders’ Human Services Committee to discuss the necessity of preserving full state funding for Care 4 Kids, a child care subsidy program sponsored by the state Office of Early Childhood, which provides support for low- and moderate-income families across the state. Three parents, as well as several community members who work in early childhood care, submitted testimony defending the program. The order calling for the public hearing was forwarded to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, Speaker of the State House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin/Southington, Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and the New Haven’s delegation to the Connecticut General Assembly.

“It’s hard to get great responses from young children without understanding the circumstances of parents, particularly low-income parents who face real challenges,” said David Wilkinson, the commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood. “When you start behind, you tend to stay behind.”

Currently, 1,660 New Haven children are receiving support from Care 4 Kids — more than in any other Connecticut town — according to a January 2018 report posted on Care 4 Kids website. Wilkinson said early intervention and quality day care can break the “relentless cycle” of poverty and can curb the perpetuation of racial injustice in the state. He said that, as the largest program in the Office of Early Childhood, Care 4 Kids is the most important program for combatting these issues.

Early childhood programs funded by the state have faced budget cuts in the past. In late 2016, the state announced that acceptances to Care 4 Kids would go on hold for over a year due to the budget stalemate. Under the Connecticut budget passed in November, the office received a $15 million increase for Care 4 Kids, according to Wilkinson. But while funding for the program is included in Malloy’s budget for fiscal year 2018, Care 4 Kids was also included in the governor’s Mitigation Plan Proposal, making it vulnerable to future budget cuts.

In his Mitigation Plan Proposal, Malloy wrote that in better economic times for the state he would not have proposed cutting state programs.

“I believe we do a disservice to the public when we defer necessary steps and fail to take decisive action, ultimately making the cost to taxpayers and damage to government services even more severe,” the Mitigation Plan read.

At Tuesday’s hearing, parents testified about the importance of the program. Joanna Fairweather, a single parent of a 6-month-old child, said that she had to go back to work four weeks after her son was born because she did not have access to paid leave. She said her son’s child care costs — including the $300-a-week price of her son’s daycare, which costs more than her rent  — are covered by Care 4 Kids.

“Care 4 Kids is in place for mothers like me, and it definitely helps,” Fairweather said.

Lina Greco, another parent and New Haven resident, also emphasized the importance of the program. If she wasn’t able to get assistance from the state for daycare services, she said, she would have to quit her job and receive unemployment benefits from the state.

Ward 5 Alder Dave Reyes, the other co-sponsor of the resolution, said early childhood experience programs are often the first to get cut. As a parent, he described the prospect of losing the support as “heartbreaking.”

Wilkinson also praised New Haven’s delegation to the state for its advocacy program. He pointed out that state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, has been the most steadfast voice in the state legislature pushing her colleagues to support this issue. He said that early intervention programs lead to not only long-term fiscal savings but also immediate savings, as they decrease the number of state residents who rely on more expansive subsidy programs because they must leave their jobs to look after children.

Natalie Vieria, of All Our Kin — a nonprofit in New Haven that works with local child care providers — emphasized that when state programs lapse, mothers drop out of the workforce or put their children in unregulated child care, which carries its own security risks.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu

ISABEL BYSIEWICZ