$14 million for face lifts and nose jobs — or child care for 39,000 working families?

Until a few days ago, Working Connections Child Care – one of the state’s most efficient welfare-to-work programs, according some – was slated to fall under the budget axe. Now lawmakers are now looking for $12 million in savings to maintain the program. Here’s where they can find it: by ending a $14 million state tax break on cosmetic surgery.

Working Connections works by offsetting some of the cost of child care for people earning low wages, making it possible for people to afford to go to work. By providing a pathway out of poverty and into the workforce, it has literally saved Washington tens of millions of dollars in reduced TANF outlays, restored the dignity of work to thousands of people.

But the steep decline in state revenues brought on by the recession threatened the success of Working Connections. Currently, families at 175% of the federal poverty level – up to $2,671/month for a family of three – are eligible for a child care credit. Proposed budget cuts would push that qualification level down to 82% of federal poverty, or just over $1,200/month for a family of three. That’s far below what one adult working at minimum wage earns, so it would all but eliminate the program.

As Jerry Large noted in his recent column, state lawmakers are seeking $12 million in other savings to save the program. That could mean any number of things – but in the current climate, it most likely means taking the money from some other crucial public service. A better alternative is to examine some of the 500+ special tax preferences and exemptions that have crept into law over the past 70 years.

Ending the tax break on cosmetic surgery would restore enough state revenue to keep Working Connections working well for Washington’s parents, children and employers alike — and even expand the program a bit, to make it easier for people to get a job and keep it during the recession.

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