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When Angelica Gonzalez left home at age 11, all she wanted was a safe place where she could go back to school.

Abandoned by her mentally ill mother, she was raising herself on the streets of her Phoenix neighborhood, never in school, and narrowly avoiding the gangs and crime that seemed to be everywhere.

“I just knew if I stayed there, something really bad was going to happen. You never knew when your luck would finally run out,” Gonzalez said.

By the time Gonzalez turned 23, she was far from those streets, with a degree from the University of Washington Tacoma and a decent apartment outside Seattle. A public child care subsidy held her new life together. The subsidy allowed her to afford one of the region’s best child care centers for her toddler and keep a promising job at a local elementary school. While it paid only roughly $20,000 a year, the job offered a bright future.

A single setback – the loss of that subsidy – fractured Gonzalez’s new life and stability. A rare child support check from her ex-husband pushed her over the program’s income limit temporarily and halted her subsidy indefinitely. Gonzalez was told she could try again in a couple of months, but she could not wait that long. She had to pay her child care bill now, and realized she could not rely on the system or her ex-husband.

She struggled to pay $800 a month for child care – more than half her paycheck – by taking a second job, then leaving both jobs for higher pay selling paint. Since she now worked evenings, she had to send her daughters, then 1 and 7 years old, to unlicensed and unreliable child care.

Without stable child care, other challenges – a deteriorating relationship, health problems and rising rent – became that much harder to manage. Within two years, Gonzalez was unemployed and she and her two daughters were homeless.

“I am not trying to use the system by asking for child care. I am trying to become stable and productive, and contribute to society,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, the system failed me and I couldn’t continue to let the system fail me.”

Gonzalez’s story is echoed by parents in Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico and California. Child care options and subsidy programs vary among states, but parents around the country cite the same obstacle: an inaccessible system defined by rigid eligibility requirements.

Families worry that a small raise could cost them a subsidy worth far more than the raise itself. Instead of high-quality child care, they find waiting lists and few options during evening and overnight shifts demanded by low-wage jobs in the modern economy. They deal with a child care system that sometimes appears to challenge rather than support them as they try to build more secure lives for their families. Instead, they want a system that preserves subsidies as they earn more but still can’t afford child care.

They want child care that reflects what it means to be working, poor and raising children in America.

Read more about Angelica Gonzalez and this pressing issue at Equal Voice For Families.

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