Parents Cut Corners in Poor Economy

Denise Bonitto, Harrison's neighbor in Yonkers, knows she can't afford to lose too many days at work or she'll lose her welfare benefits.

"I get up every morning, and I deal with seniors at the senior citizen center," said Bonitto.

For 20 hours a week, Bonitto, 46, feeds seniors their meals and plans activities for them.

"I enjoy the work, but at the same token, I wish I could get a paycheck for it," said Bonitto. "I have to work for my 'outgoing needs' welfare check."

Trying to Make It On Welfare

Bonitto said she gets $147 every two weeks for her "outgoing needs."

The money is meant to cover non-food costs for herself, her 16-year-old daughter and her grandchild. But Bonitto extends that money for a fourth person in the household: her 22-year-old son who has cerebral palsy and seizures.

"What they give us is ridiculous. They're bringing back slavery, to say it in a polite way," said Bonitto. "If you've got to be at work from 9 to 2, how are you supposed to find a job?"

When the WIC benefits run out for Bonitto's family, she, too, goes to the food pantry. But even that can require referrals from the Salvation Army or forms from the welfare office, she said.

"We're barely making it," said Bonitto.

To help herself, Bonitto joined the Community Voices Heard.

"We fight for low-income families; we're fighting to save our homes," she said.

Bonitto also finds assistance with her neighbor, Harrison.

"Phyllis baby-sits for me and my daughter; we're all on DSS," she said.

Agencies that track child care say relying on neighbors and friends to watch children is a sure sign of a recession.

"We are getting reports from all around the country of people making the decision basically to save money by taking children out of child care," said Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies in Arlington, Va.

"They can't not make the rent payment, they have to make the utilities, so what can they do? Take the children out of child care," said Smith. "The question is then: Where do they go?"

Smith's organization has been able to track some trends of child care when kids are pulled out of day care: Grandparents watch more children, as do relatives, neighbors and friends.

More worrisome to Smith is the decision to take rotating day and night shift work so that one parent is always at home.

"But if the parent's sleeping during the day, what care is the child getting? Is the child just parked in front of the TV?" asked Smith.

What Smith and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies cannot be sure of is the quality of care children are receiving.

"If they're a school age child, they're probably going home after school," she said. "If they're preschool aged, they're probably bouncing around from neighbors to friends, to anyone who will take them."

Of course, Smith said some of this care might be quality. But some may not.

"The biggest predictor in good child outcomes is consistency with a relationship, with a caregiver," said Smith. "We, as a nation, need to stand back and look at this and say, 'What is the view of the child?'"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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