When Ivanka Trump came to Mississippi for a conversation about women and child care, she didn’t get to hear from representatives of a model program in Biloxi funded by the event’s sponsor, the U.S. Labor Department.
Trump appeared interested and engaged during a one-hour discussion with 12 panelists who represented child care groups, business, government and education. The Department of Labor hosted the event at the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport, but only one panelist, Mississippi Power CEO Anthony Wilson, was from South Mississippi.
“The thing that is just striking to me is that we are at the center of this work and conversation, and even partners of the host of this event, so it’s just surprising that we weren’t included in that meeting,” said Carol Burnett, executive director of Moore Community House in Biloxi. “ It would have been an opportunity to showcase this model that is right here on the Gulf Coast.”
“I think it’s fair to say, from any objective perspective, that we are an example of a successful model for what they were holding this meeting to talk about.”
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A representative of Moore could have told Ivanka Trump about the kind of program she is interested in the federal government supporting, one that provides affordable and dependable child care for women while they train for jobs that pay living wages.
Moore Community House started the Women in Construction Program after Hurricane Katrina. Today, Burnett said, it is one of only 14 recipients nationwide of Strengthening Working Families Initiative grants from the Labor Department.
Women in Construction pairs the DOL grant with state funding that pays 100 percent of child care for one year to the women enrolled.
“This model is exactly the combination of services that works to move women toward economic security,” Burnett said.
The grant provides Women in Construction with $3.5 million over four years and is allowing the program to train hundreds of women in construction skills that will give them the income they need to work, support their children and pay for child care.
The state kicks in $800,000 a year that covers child care long enough for the women to complete the eight-week program, find work and get on their feet.
Burnett said the program, which has grown thanks to the grants, enrolls 180 women a year and has a job-placement rate of 70 percent for graduates.
“We’ve been sharing information about this model program in Biloxi all over the country,” Burnett said.
At the Labor Department event in Gulfport, Trump and Patti Greene of the Labor Department heard from a Head Start program director in Southaven and the owner of a child care center in Canton, along with educators, business people and government representatives.
The media was allowed to attend the “listening session,” but was ordered not to ask questions and to stand in a roped-off corner of the room where the event was held. About 40 invited guests, including local and state politicians, watched from the audience.
Gov. Phil Bryant’s office worked with the Department of Labor and White House to select panelists for the event, spokesman Knox Graham said afterward. He would not answer a question about why no South Mississippi advocates for working mothers and affordable child care were included on the panel, instead shaking his head and walking away.
Ivanka Trump lingered for a few minutes after the event to shake hands and exchange greetings with attendees.
On her way in, she joked that she had a hard time tearing herself away from one of the activity center playrooms, where parents selected from the membership roll at Lynn Meadows were invited to bring their children for a meet-and-greet with the first daughter ahead of the listening session.