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Affordable Child Care Isn't a 'Nice-to-Have'

Photograph by Claudya Martinez

I watched President Obama deliver the State of the Union address with my husband and my two daughters. I'll be totally upfront and tell you that I like Obama—I voted for him twice, so I expected to nod in approval and clap a few times. But when he got to the part about child care where he said, "It's not a nice-to-have—it's a must-have. It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us," I wanted to find a way to get him re-elected a third time because, YES!!!

Ladies and gentlemen of this country, can we please all put our differences aside and agree that quality, affordable child care is a must-have? I believe this passionately because I know the difference that being able to afford child care makes for a struggling family firsthand. Let me tell you my child care story and how having access to child care that I can afford has changed my life and my family's life.

I live in San Francisco (one of the most expensive cities in the nation); I have two young children and a wonderful, hardworking husband. For our first four years as parents, we couldn't afford child care. To make ends meet, my husband would work five days a week and on his days off, I would work a part-time job. In other words, I was with the kids when he was working, and he was with the kids when I was working. We never had any days off together as a family.

For our first four years as parents, we couldn't afford child care. To make ends meet, my husband would work five days a week and on his days off, I would work a part-time job.

When my eldest daughter turned 4, I started looking into preschools for her because I know that going to preschool sets children up for later success in school and I also know that, unfortunately, many Latino children don't get a chance to go to preschool. Luckily, San Francisco has a Preschool For All program that offers affordable to free preschool to all 4-year-olds in the city, regardless of income.

We found a school we wanted my daughter to attend. The Preschool for All program only covered the cost of a few hours a day, the school—which is run by incredible women who know what it's like to raise children in this city because they've done it—found funding that covered the difference so that my child could attend full days, all week.

Later, this same school helped me get my second child into their program. I do pay part of the tuition, but nowhere near the full amount, which would be about $1,500 a month. I pay an amount that isn't negligible for us, but it's doable.

I'm thrilled that Obama is making affordable child care a hot topic. I think it's great that he is working on creating "more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year." That's great; it's a good start. I say "start" because in the real world, or at least my real world in San Francisco, child care costs WAY more than $3,000 a year.

What does this mean for us as a family?

It means that my kids are getting a leg up on their education. My eldest made a smooth transition to kindergarten because of her preschool experience. My youngest is socializing, learning and thriving. I'm free to work more without it all going to pay for child care and I can work at the same time as my husband does—which means that as a family we get weekends together. It took years for me to be able to spend the weekends with my family, and I will never take that privilege for granted.

I believe in affordable child care for all. I'm thrilled that Obama is making affordable child care a hot topic. I think it's great that he is working on creating "more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year." That's great; it's a good start. I say "start" because in the real world, or at least my real world in San Francisco, child care costs WAY more than $3,000 a year.

My family and I are lucky; we found a child care center that went out of their way to work with us, to invest in our family because they believe in our potential. We are there because of grants they've sourced because of resources they've helped create. As lucky as we are, I know that affordable child care should not be about luck. It should be a possibility for all because it's an investment in our future as a people and as a nation.

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