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Today I learned that state Rep. Scot Fitzpatrick (R-158), who represents predominantly rural Barry County, is sponsoring a bill, HB1355, that would exempt day care businesses in similar counties from state regulation, while allowing the local jurisdictions to enact alternative rules should they feel the need for any regulation. To put this in perspective, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “all but six of 56 child care deaths in Missouri from 2007 through July 2011 occurred in unlicensed home day cares.” Recently, one of those deaths, that of baby Izabella Moore, has been in the news as her parents seek to unseal records pertaining to her death in an unlicensed Perry County day care facility in which fourteen children were left in the care of one adult. Indications are that the child was left unattended in a basement for several hours during which time she died. Not surprising given those circumstances, though the fact that the unlicensed day care in question is still operating is indeed perplexing.

But Rep. Fitzpatrick does actually have an reasonable case to make:

The way Fitzpatrick sees it, most child care providers in his area cannot afford to come into compliance with state licensing standards.

He said they lack the staff to meet state standards for adult-to-child ratios. He said they can’t survive under the state’s enrollment limits, which cap their number of paying clients.

He’s right. Barry County, which is typical of many rural Missouri counties, has a poverty rate of 18%; the median household income is about $38,000. Women make up half the population and it’s likely, given the economic make-up of the county, that many Barry County mothers have to work if the family is to survive. It’s also likely that many of those families can’t afford to meet the costs for quality child care – which, in turn, means that there will be few day cares that offer such care.

Nevertheless, if Rep. Fitzpatrick is right about the conditions that lead to substandard child care operations, he is not right about the remedy. Wouldn’t this be the time to propose beefing up state child care assistance? It is certainly true that Missouri hasn’t been overdoing such assistance:

Unfortunately the State of Missouri has one of the weakest Child Care Assistance Programs in the country.  Missouri’s eligibility requirements for Child Care Assistance are among the most stringent of all the states (you have to be poorer than families in all but four other state to qualify for assistance in Missouri) and the state’s assistance payments are the lowest.  In Missouri child care providers are reimbursed for providing services at only about half the market rate.  The federal standard for reimbursement of providers is at 75 percent of the market rate.  Missouri has not increased its child care reimbursement rate since 1999.  […]

It is equally true that, as the Missouri based Vision for Children at Risk (VCR) notes, that quality child care “is critical to the development and well-being of children,” a fact that affects the well-being of our society as a whole. The VCR also adds that the purpose of state funded child care assistance is “is to enable families to gain employment and remain employed” while securing acceptable care for their children. I may be wrong, but I think I’ve been hearing lots of Republicans gassing on and on about how the poor have to work. Why then make them choose between the well-being of their children and the need to feed them? Could it be because nobody thinks these folks matter? Rep. Fitzpatrick’s legislative remedy certainly implies that poor people in poor jurisdictions don’t deserve quality care for their children.

Rep. Ftizpatrick is, however, willing to go out on a limb to provide relief to one class of Missourians, namely the wealthy. He was vigorous in his defense of last year’s misguided and ultimately defeated tax cut for the rich, HB253, and will undoubtedly be hitting the hustings to campaign for this year’s variant of tax relief for the rich and connected. That he can do so while throwing up his hands, saying nothing can be done about poverty and the state of child care for the poor except relegate their children to the type of day care that might be the norm in a third world country says volumes about the type of country that Republicans want us to become. If I didn’t think it was hopeless, I’d say somebody ought to describe the benefits of progressive tax reforms to the Representative while disabusing him of some of the rightwing trickle down mythology that allows the wealthy to make out like bandits at the expense of the rest of us.

One last fact that should excite wonder: Barry county votes overwhelmingly Republican and it’s more than likely that Rep. Fitzpatrick’s disdain for the children of his constituents will be spun as concern for their plight – and most of them, desperate to get along during hard times, will go along with the spin. Lots of them will also think that he’s right to go after taxes – even though many of them will end up on the short end of the stick. Because P.T. Barnum was right: there’s a sucker born every minute.