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State budget cuts take day care assistance from some
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Jennifer Tuel is in the welfare to work program. She's being trained as a licensed practical nurse. She'll lose state aid one month before she gets her nursing degree. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Cuts in the state's budget took affect July first. Minnesotans who receive aid are starting to feel the difference. People who need state assistance for child care got a case of sticker shock this month. Lawmakers increased fees and co-payments along with cuts in some services to balance the state's budget.

Moorhead, Minn. — Jennifer Tuel, 25, is a single mom. She has a six-year-old daughter and a six-month-old son. For the past two years, Tuel has been in the welfare to work program. She's being trained as a licensed practical nurse. She's gotten aid for health care, food stamps and day care.

That state assistance totaled up to $1700 a month. Tuel also works. Before her son was born, she worked up to 30 hours a week. But now things are changing. She's losing state aid, one month before she gets her nursing degree.

"They (the state) paid for two years of my education and now they want me to drop out a semester away from my degree," says Tuel. "It doesn't make sense to me. They paid all that money and now it seems like it would just go to waste if I didn't continue my education."

Tuel, her children and a brother live with her mother. Tuel says she'll find a way to provide for her children. But paying $850 a month for day care is going to be a problem.

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Image Joe Pederson is director of the Clay-Wilkin Opportunity Council.

"I talked to one of the ladies in charge of day care in Moorhead," says Tuel. "She said, 'I don't know what your resources are but if I were you I would move to Fargo, because there isn't a waiting list in Fargo for daycare assistance.'"

Minnesota lawmakers saved $86 million this spring through cuts to child care subsidies. That's more than the governor originally proposed.

Lawmakers made more than half-a-dozen changes to scale back state subsidized child care. More than 25,000 low-income families will see their monthly co-payments go up.

Joe Pederson is the director of the Clay-Wilkin Opportunity Council, a non-profit service provider. He says the cuts aren't just affecting low-income people. He reads a letter of resignation from an employee at the group's day care center.

"At this time we can't afford to bring all three of our children to the center and are unable to find affordable, quality child care," Pederson reads from the letter. "I've enjoyed working at Daily Discoveries and I'll miss the staff and families."

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Image Gayle Johnson is director of Daily Discoveries Learning Center.

Pederson says the employee is lucky. Her husband has a job. The family will be able to get by. Others are not so fortunate. Gayle Johnson runs the Daily Discoveries Learning Center.

"They lose their child care, they lose their job. They lose their job, they become homeless," says Johnson. "We've just got this vicious circle going."

Gayle says as child care becomes more expensive, parents are faced with a tough decision.

"They're going to look at their second, third-grader and say, 'Well, maybe they can stay home alone,'" she says. "We know what happens when school age kids go home after school alone. Truancy goes up, drug usage goes up, crime goes up, teen pregnancy. The list just goes on and on of the negative things that happen."

The Pawlenty administration says the situtation is simple. The state had to make budget cuts. The money isn't available. Joe Pederson of the Clay-Wilkin Opportunity Council disagrees. Pederson says the Governor should have the political will to do the right thing. That means finding the money to maintain day care assistance.

Pederson and his staff will track what happens to people who drop out of their program. They'll use the information to lobby the legislature next session.

Jennifer Tuel is searching for answers. She wants to finish school and get her nursing degree. She'll need family and friends to help her with day care. She'd also like to have a conversation with Governor Tim Pawlenty.

"They keep saying their not trying to tax the poor or hurt the poor, but they are," says Tuel. "When you cut funding to their agencies and all that. I would like to ask him (Gov. Pawlenty) specifically, 'What do you want me to do right now?' "Because I don't have any options."

Tuel says if she has to she'll move to North Dakota and apply for day care assistance there. She says that's the only way she 'll be able to finish school.

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