Uniting for Women’s Prosperity in Northern Colorado
WFCO, WomenGive, and Project Self-Sufficiency Open Doors for Single Moms
Cancelling her retail shifts was becoming a weekly occurrence for Cassie Miller. Friends and family provided child care for her infant daughter, Taya, but something always came up at the last minute.
She was terrified of losing her job, but paying for fully licensed child care was not an option: The monthly cost for infant care in a licensed child care center averages $1,421 per month in Larimer County. Her earnings at $13.16 per hour would cover child care and part of her rent, but nothing would be left for food or other basic needs.
Step #1: Stabilize child care
The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) subsidizes child-care costs for working families with qualifying incomes. Cassie assumed she met the requirements, but learned there was a three-year wait list in Larimer County. The inadequate access to affordable child care in Northern Colorado leaves many single moms, including Cassie, in impossible situations.
I tried so hard to figure out day care, and it was just a nightmare. I really didn’t know what I was going to do. – Cassie Miller
She found Project Self-Sufficiency just in time. The WFCO WAGES grantee that helps low-income, single parents achieve economic independence, helped her secure affordable housing and obtain CCCAP through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Stabilizing child care reduced her immediate anxiety about losing her job, but she knew if she stayed in retail, she would never go off public supports or climb out of debt. Training or education to improve her career prospects and long-term wage growth was necessary.
Step #2: Increase hourly wage
Cassie and her advisor, Nicole Gawronski, determined she will need to make $26 per hour to meet her family’s needs without public or private assistance. She decided to pursue a degree in elementary education because she loves kids and the schedule makes it easier for a single mom to circumvent child care in the summers. Though starting salaries for teachers in Colorado are less than her target wage, with the child-care savings, she’ll be on a path toward economic security.
There was just one more obstacle blocking her path before she could enroll: Although CCCAP can be used if a parent is working, in Larimer County it cannot be used while they go to school.
Recognizing this gap, WomenGive, a program of United Way of Larimer County, provides child-care scholarships to single mothers (many of whom are in Project Self-Sufficiency) while they’re in school. This essential resource WomenGive allowed Cassie to enroll at community college part time and continue to work part time. WomenGive is a long-time policy partner and funder of The Women’s Foundation.
Step #3: Recognize it’s a long game
With the help of Project Self-Sufficiency and WomenGive, Cassie will complete her associate degree in 2021 and bachelor’s degree in 2024. To meet this timeline, she’ll eventually leave her job and go to school full-time.
Nicole acknowledges it’s a long game when helping single moms achieve economic security. Just 8 percent of single mothers who enroll in college graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years.
“Trying to go to school without stable housing, child care, or while working too many hours is like building a house on quicksand,” said Nicole. “We would rather our participants do well in school, even if that means leaving their jobs, to plan for long-term success.”
To ensure she graduates, Cassie meets with Nicole monthly to discuss child care, school, and financial planning.
“She is just as invested in getting there as we are,” said Nicole.
Step #4: Create systemic changes
Cassie’s family helped where they could, but without the guidance and knowledge of Project Self-Sufficiency or child-care scholarships from WomenGive, returning to school wouldn’t have been possible.
Addressing the state’s child-care crisis also requires systemic change. WFCO researches child-care costs by county and lobbies policymakers to make the CCCAP program accessible to more families. WFCO also lobbies for tax credits that will improve financial outcomes for low-income working parents and child-care providers.
“Cassie’s situation illustrates how the lack of affordable child care in Colorado impedes families’ economic progress,” said Louise Myrland, vice president of programs at WFCO. “It takes many partnerships and multi-level approaches to make it attainable for low-income families in our state.”
It’s not easy, but now it’s possible
Between work, school, and parenting Taya (now 2 ½ years old), Cassie has no spare time – but she’s committed to improving her situation.
“It’s important to stress how much Project Self-Sufficiency, WomenGive, and The Women’s Foundation have made a world of difference to my situation,” said Cassie. “It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but their support and resources have made it possible.”