Philadelphia City Council Testimony
May 4, 2016
Good evening, I am JoAnne Fischer, Executive Director of the Maternity Care Coalition. You may know us in the community and Riverside Correctional Facility as the MOMobile or as the largest Early Head Start program in PA. It will be no surprise that we believe the period between pregnancy and age five is the most critical for the development and future success of children and families.
Our city’s children need high quality early education. This proposal is a small step toward establishing a long term stable funding stream to address this urgent need.
We understand that the Mayor’s budget proposal to tax sugary beverages is based on what some people call a sin tax…taxing things that are bad for you. We understand these taxes disproportionately impact low income families. These critiques are very familiar to us. I can remember testifying back in the 80’s when the PA legislature proposed establishing Health Insurance for Children based on tobacco taxes. There were similar arguments and considerations. Advocates were accused of promoting smoking to benefit kids! However, now we realize that first step was a very important beginning – toward establishing the value and infrastructure for what eventually became the CHIP program. PA led the way and became a model for the nation for a program that is currently primarily federally funded. Now it is Philadelphia’s turn to lead the way as model for universal pre-k. If you see these parallels, I can promise you will be claiming your leadership and early support of Universal Pre K, the way so many of our current politicians fall over each other to tout their role in establishing the CHIP program.
I would also like to weigh in on the issue of the advisability of establishing a Universal Pre-K program when some communities are so much needier than others. MCC works in those communities of greatest need which is why we are supporting a Universal Program that establishes priorities for enrollment. We want you to understand that simple income guidelines are insufficient. The rigid income and work programs of the child care subsidy program are too narrow. They create a cliff where women are often not able to accept a raise or advance in the workplace because they will lose their subsidy and can’t afford child care without it. We address these issues routinely in our Early Head Start program. An example is the teen parent who was enrolled in college and had a child with Down’s syndrome who was deemed ineligible for Childcare subsidy because she didn’t work 10 hours a week. We were able to enroll that child because Early Head Start has a ranking system considers other factors such as disability, immigration or sibling status, homelessness, domestic violence and incarceration. With far too many needy children and limited Pre-K slots, these kinds of priorities will need to be established by communities.
Finally, we urge you to support this proposal because of its two generational impact. Not only will it support the early education of young children but it will also enable parents to continue their own education, facilitate their transition into the workforce and succeed at work. At Maternity Care Coalition, we see this effort as a baby step toward our goal of strengthening families and inspiring change.