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For this mom, shutdown means loss of child-care subsidy -- and potential domino effects

What’s the price of stability — or, put another way, the cost of the shutdown? In Tiffany Brewer’s case, $279 a week.

That’s the child-care subsidy she won’t get while the state is shut down — and the first in a series of ugly, ugly dominoes that could tumble in quick succession.

Until Friday, it seemed that Brewer, a determined 41-year-old single mother with a tough history, was close to finally making it. A few weeks ago, she was poised to start hunting for an apartment.

Brewer has been living with her mother in North Minneapolis, struggling to stay sober after five years and to make a life for herself and her son, who is 4. She’s been working in a clerical capacity for a charter school for the last year, a job she got through Tree Trust, a social-service agency that helps people with long histories of being unemployable find and keep work.

Intensive services for fragile families
Child-care-assistance rolls are woefully oversubscribed in Minnesota, but through some miracle she was also able to get a state scholarship for her boy, who has attended Catholic Charities’ North Side Child Development Center. Because the center provides intensive services for Minnesota’s most fragile families, it charges a little more than market rate.

The $279-per-week subsidy goes to the center, and Brewer contributes a relatively affordable $79-a-month copay. Her son gets a great early education there. In fact, he’s beyond ready for kindergarten.

“He’s going to be way above his class,” Brewer couldn’t help bragging during an interview last week. “He’s tying his shoes, he knows the months of the year, he knows his address, and he knows his first, his middle and both of his last names. He’s very smart.

“Day care has really prepared him for school life,” she continued. “They also offer occupational therapy.  He doesn’t have any speech problems, he doesn’t have any ADD problems, he’s just a very picky eater and he’s an only child so he has a problem with sharing, so he’s in occupational therapy for that.”

The subtexts you should be gleaning: This particular use of tax dollars is a crucial part of any chance mother and son have of scraping their way out of poverty; and the political stalemate in St. Paul has far bigger ramifications for some than for others.

On the edge
It’s hard work being as poor as Brewer. Her pay is usually less than the $2,002-a-month eligibility cutoff for state Medical Assistance, but in April she somehow earned $2,034. Her son was allowed to keep receiving care, but she was cut off.

Without someone to care for her son, Brewer would be forced to stay home. Under ordinary circumstances this would quite possibly lead to the loss of her job — not to mention her boy’s teachers, who can’t get paid.

Brewer hesitates to refer to it as luck, but a sister who lives in Eden Prairie can’t find work, so if they can work out transportation Brewer can have stopgap child care. She can keep the job she struggled so hard to get, at least for now.

Because charter schools are getting no state aid at all during the shutdown, she won’t get paid. Brewer is going to work anyway because she is deeply grateful to her employer, who will pay everyone when the taps are turned back on.

“At least I would know that once the government opened back up again, I have a job,” she said. “I wouldn’t walk away from my job to get paid nothing to go and try and find a job and maybe not even be able to find a job or have it not pay enough, [or] as much as my current job.” 

Medical care
One more domino Brewer feared failed to topple. Medical Assistance has not been cut off, so she can keep receiving the psychiatric medications that have helped her regain enough stability to work and parent. The tonsil surgery she rushed her son in to have in June went off without a hitch.

“It’s hard,” she summed up. “Hard.”

Brewer had one more thing to say, not so much to MinnPost and our readers as to the governor.

“Let Gov. Dayton know that, yeah it’s going to shut down and it’s going to hurt for a minute, but if worse comes to worse, we’re going to be fine,” she said. “Don’t buckle to them. Stand up and fight. Yeah, it’s going to make a lot of us uncomfortable and out of our comfort zone for a while, but if we really look at the long run, what they’re asking or what they’re not trying to propose is going to hurt us in the long run.

“So I say go Dayton. Don’t buckle.”

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Comments (4)

A courageous and principled request to the governor not to buckle despite the pain this woman is feeling.
Why don't I ever see the Republicans talking about these people?

This woman is so dependent on government from morning til night that she can't even ween herself long enough to look for another job when her subsidized employer can't make its payroll.

Way to go, liberals. Mission accomplished.

Why is she in this situation to begin with? And why are we the tax payers responsible for this? Child care subsidies, medical assistance, subsidized housing, food stamps & on & on & on... Life's hard for everyone! Relying on government is not your only option out of poverty!

Unemployment is high, Dennis. Highly skilled state employees who enjoy their work (accountants, information technology geeks and attorneys) are not seeking other employment during the shut down.