Charlotte Neal: “I come up short every single month”

Charlotte Neal runs a near 24-hour child care in Sacramento. She has kids being dropped off and picked up in the wee hours of the morning. In an economy where not everyone works nine-to-five–where people work as delivery drivers, restaurant workers and nursing assistants–Charlotte provides an essential service.

“They need child care just as much as people who work during the day. I am there for them,” Charlotte says of the hardworking parents who trust her with their children.

But, she says, there’s more to her near-total availability than just being helpful.

“Honestly, I do 24 hours just to make it,” she says. “I can’t even imagine how hard it is for providers who don’t.

The problem for Charlotte, and family child care providers in every California county, is that the pay is too low to offer any real economic security. Alternative Payment programs reimburse providers for children who qualify for subsidized care, but providers are at the mercy of whatever those rates are.

“Twelve of the 14 kids in my care are on subsidy and I can tell you the reimbursement rates are just too low,” Charlotte says. “I come up short every single month. Every month I have to decide which bills I can pay and which I can’t.

“Am I going to pay for my health care this month? Or food and supplies for the day care? Or gas for pick up and drop off?”

Charlotte knew she couldn’t solve the problems of the state’s child care system by herself, so she joined her union, CCPU-UDW. Joining together with thousands of other family child care providers gave her a voice to get her concerns heard. It gave her a platform to develop her leadership. And it gave her a chance to change things for the better.

This year, Charlotte has led rallies, testified before committees at the California State Legislature and gone door-to-door all over the state to meet other child care providers. She has gone from being one provider struggling to be heard to a leader in the movement to lift up California’s child care workforce.

Now, as our bill to gain collective bargaining rights, AB 378, gets closer to becoming law, Charlotte reflects on how having a seat at the table with the state will help providers like her put their experience to work fixing our broken child care system.

“I’ve been a provider for 18 years and I’ve seen everything,” she says,  “Taking care of kids is an adventure for sure, but I love it. Now we are ready to work with the state to make childcare work better for providers, families and the children we care for.”

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