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State budget cuts put San Luis Obispo parents in a bind

Rudy Cerda is not sure yet what he’s going to do Nov. 1.

The single father of three depends on child care funding from CalWORKs, the state’s welfare-to-work program, to pay for after-school programs and day care so he can keep working.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the child care money from the newly passed state budget, leaving Cerda and 220 other families in San Luis Obispo County scrambling to find care options for their children.

“If it’s going to go through on Nov. 1, that would mean I’m going to have to quit my job to take care of my kids,” Cerda said this week.

The program, known as CalWORKs Stage 3, subsidizes child care for families who no longer receive cash aid and have received child care for two years.

Schwarzenegger’s veto is estimated to save $256 million — but it will leave 434 children in San Luis Obispo County without child care, according to the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.

Sheri Wilson, director of CAPSLO’s Child Care Resource Connection, which funnels state funding to child care providers, has been frantically sending out notices to families.

“Removing Stage 3 (funding) will force some of these people back to cash aid,” Wilson said. “It will cost California more money to support these folks, who were contributing and being self-sufficient.”

Parents can add their children to a waiting list for a separate child care program for low-income families, but the list already contains 500 names, she said.

By the end of June, an additional 112 children will also be without child care funding. These families are currently in CalWORKs Stage 2 and are set to transition to Stage 3 sometime in the next eight months.

The average annual income for a Stage 3 working parent is about $24,000, Patty Siegel, executive director of California’s Child Care Resource & Referral Network, told The Sacramento Bee.

The state Department of Education estimates the cuts will affect 54,000 children statewide and an additional 1,500 children a month who will no longer be able to transition into Stage 3.

“I fear these families will find themselves with nowhere to go and will have to quit the jobs they worked so hard to attain,” Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of schools, said in a statement.

Kami Gooch is concerned that she will become one such parent.

“I do not want to live off the system,” said Gooch, who works 24 to 32 hours a week as a deli clerk at Vons in Atascadero. “It’s a knock to my self-esteem.”

Gooch, 35, relies on employees at the Youth Arts Activity Center, a nonprofit child care facility, to pick up her fourth-grade daughter from San Benito Elementary School and watch her until Gooch’s mother can pick her up for a few hours.

But her mother can’t watch the 10-year-old full-time, and Gooch, on an income of about $800 a month, may need cash aid from the state again to make ends meet.

Enid Cordero, a cook at Atascadero State Hospital, is also struggling to figure out how she’ll get her 5-year-old son to kindergarten next month.

An Atascadero day care provider currently gets Malachi ready for school so that Cordero can get to work by 4:45 a.m. A friend may be able to watch her son in the mornings, but Cordero will have to take an hour off work to take him to San Benito Elementary.

Cordero, 26, pays $56 per month toward the day care and receives a subsidy of $440 — a cost too high for Cordero to pay without help.

“I’m just taking it one step at a time right now,” she said.

So is Rudy Cerda.

Cerda, a recovering alcoholic, has been sober nearly four years. About four years ago, he moved his family into a subsidized San Luis Obispo apartment and, two years ago, started working full-time.

“I’m a good worker,” he said. “I wanted to get back on my feet.”

Nowadays, Cerda, 43, wakes his children, ages 11, 6 and 4, up at 6 a.m. They are fed, dressed and out to the door by 7 a.m. so that Cerda can get to his job as an operator at a San Luis Obispo-based company that manufactures plastic parts.

After work, Cerda picks up his youngest daughter from Kidz Korner Preschool and his daughter and son from an after-school program at Sinsheimer Elementary.

The cost of the preschool alone is about $610 a month — too much for Cerda to afford, he said, on a monthly income of about $1,200 to $1,300.

Now, Cerda isn’t sure where to turn.

He’s even called local state Sen. Sam Blakeslee’s office in Sacramento and asked, “How do you expect me to move forward?”

A staff member said he’d pass the message along to Blakeslee, Cerda said.

In Sacramento, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez on Tuesday announced a plan to restore the cuts, including contributing $6 million from the Assembly’s operating budget and asking the statewide and county First 5 Commissions to intervene, according to a news release from his office.

But the state Legislature’s solution might be too late for some families.

“There’s going to be a lot of single parents out of jobs because they have to take care of their kids,” Cerda predicted.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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