If it sounds like a

warm election-year fuzzy,

it probably is

Last week we ran a front-page story heralding Rep. Richard Mulder's award-winning legislation that pays parents to stay at home during their infant's first critical year.

I called Mulder's office Tuesday afternoon and learned that lawmakers all over the nation are scrambling all over each other to introduce similar bills in their states.

Of course they are. What politicians in their right minds wouldn't jump on a chance to propose such family-friendly legislation? It's popular with constituents, and it has such a minimal effect on the state coffers. The process of writing the idea into law likely cost more money than will ever be doled out to stay-at-home moms.

For those who missed our story, moms or dads who want to stay at home during their child's first year get reimbursed for 75 percent of the state's share of licensed family day care, which in Rock County is $1.75 per hour. That comes to roughly $3,000 a year for those who qualify for the full amount. The more the family income, the less the reimbursement. The program caps off at a family income of $37,940 for a family of four, because the income-based copay equals the program's reimbursement.

Since we ran that story, something has been bothering me, like we failed to give our readers some key information. When I read it again, I could see that Sara had covered all the major points. She had even asked how many local parents had taken advantage of the funding.

As it turns out, none of our Rock County parents have applied, likely because it's under publicized, according to Family Services. According to Mulder's office, the Department of Children Families and Learning has seen fewer than 1,000 applications statewide since the law was implemented two years ago.

The legislative assistant I spoke with agreed that was a pretty low response rate, but she, too, explained it was a lack of publicity. "It's really a great law. I'm sure if more parents knew about it we'd have far more applicants," she said.

I asked her if she was a parent. She is.

I asked her if she'd give up a year's salary in exchange for what she pays her sitter for one child. She said she probably would. "That first year of an infant's life is critical, and at least it would be something," she said.

"And would your job still be there after a year?" I inquired.

I heard a long pause on her end of the phone. "Oh. Um. Well. That's a good question. - I guess you'd have to have the right job." She didn't say if her job was such a job.

So let's see. Parents who are best suited for this award-winning legislation must be able to afford to give up a year's salary, must not be too wealthy to meet eligibility requirements, and they must work for employers who will hold their positions until they return to work a year later.

I think I've figured out what's been bugging me about our story.

The intent is noble, and I'm sure for a few parents with just the right jobs and just the right budgets that extra spare change is great. But practically speaking, I'd guess parents aren't flocking to Family Services because no one fits the bill.

It has nothing to do with lack of publicity. Something tells me if the law had offered to pay parents their going salary for a year and require their jobs be there 12 months later, no publicity would be necessary.

We've all been told if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I'd say if it sounds like a lot of political warm fuzzies in an election year, that's probably what it is.

I understand Dr. Mulder earned a first-place innovations award at the Midwest Legislative Conference for chief-authoring the bill. I think we can all assume it wasn't parents who nominated him for the award.

Sometimes the most innovative ideas aren't the most practical ... kinda like solar-powered flashlights.
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