News

Child care subsidies cut

Oak Harbor single mom Kelley Bugg would kill to have a day job so she could be home at night to tuck in her 5-year-old daughter Alexandra, but as a food server, she doesn’t get to set her own schedule.

Bugg feels fortunate to have found a child care provider who is willing to take Alexandra after 6 p.m. and on weekends, but recent state budget cuts have ended the subsidies that make the extended hours child care palatable for providers.

As a state incentive to take children during these times, child care providers have been getting a $97 per month bonus for “non-standard hours,” taking children before 6 a.m., after 6 p.m., and on weekends. That bonus system ended Friday, Feb. 28.

That cut concerns Bugg’s childcare provider, Diana Wright, owner of Diana’s Place Day Care. Wright takes children from early in the morning to late at night, plus weekends, and says the elimination of the bonus will hurt. Next month she will lose more than $500.

And the cuts don’t stop there.

Locke decreases child care funding

Gov. Gary Locke has announced a $75 million shortfall in the WorkFirst budget, and has said $35 million must be “saved” by June 30.

WorkFirst expenditures average $900 million a year, with one third, $300 million, paying for child care subsidies to low-income working parents, according to Ken Miller, the governor’s welfare advisor.

The Department of Social and Health Services sent out a letter in February to all child care providers outlining how the WorkFirst budget shortage would affect child care subsidies given under the WorkFirst program.

As of today, March 1, families who pay child care providers a $25- a-month copayment will see that increase to $50. Child care providers will receive the same amount of money, but the state share will drop, in theory returning $8 million to the state budget.

Wright said half her families receive state subsidies for child care under the Working Connections program. She already gets paid less for taking care of state-subsidized children, but does it to help the families, many of them single mothers like Bugg, struggling to get by without welfare. Still, the charitable act is taking its toll on her pocketbook.

“We don’t even make minimum wage,” Wright said. If the state makes more cuts, it will come down to a business decision, to take subsidized kids or not.

If it comes to that, “Who’s going to take these children?,” she said.

The state pays child care providers $22 per day for fulltime care of five or more hours, up to 22 days per month. Halftime is considered anything under five hours, and pays $12.50 per day. Under this formula, the cost for a child who spends more time in daycare ends up being less and less per hour, instead of a steady hourly rate. It’s $22 per day, whether it’s five hours or 10-plus.

Without the subsidies, Wright charges $3 per hour for one child, and $4 an hour for two.

Bugg said if it weren’t for the subsidized day care option she would be spending about $800 a month for child care, almost her whole paycheck as a food server, so she doesn’t mind seeing her copayment double to $50.

“I don’t have any gripes about it,” she said. “I appreciate all the help I actually get. If not for the subsidies I wouldn’t be able to work.” Bugg is not using any other WorkFirst programs or public assistance other than Medicaid for her daughter.

She is concerned about the elimination of the non-standard bonus hours monies, since it may mean she won’t be able to find child care when she, and many others in her situation, must work.

“If that happens I’ll have a lot to say,” Bugg said.

Many families affected

In Island county, 299 families with 494 children receive child care subsidies through WorkFirst’s Working Connections Child Care program, bring $2 million into the county’s economy, according to Rachael Langen, director, Division of Child Care and Early Learning.

Langen is optimistic that many of the cut services and funds will be reinstated. She said the cuts are the result of reduced federal funding.

“We will work with the child care community to prioritize what to reinstate,” she said. “We will identify the ‘have to haves’.”

In the meantime, another cut that Wright says will hurt child care providers is the elimination of funding for certification classes they must take.

“Collaboration for Children” was run by Island Opportunity Council, and taught basic skills for children in daycares such as handwashing, table manners and “stranger danger.”

Lisa Clark, service center director in Oak Harbor, said they have had to cancel eight classes for child care providers.

She said the state is basically saying, “Any dollars that you thought you had, you don’t have anymore.”

Other cuts include:

Bullet these:

Extended Hour Child Care for participants enrolled in college training programs, terminated end of Winter quarter, March 31.

Families-That-Work child care funds for parents enrolled in college training programs, terminated end of Winter quarter, March 31.

Recruitment and Retention services to recruit and train child care providers, terminated Feb. 28.

Training for child care providers on serving children from families affected by substance abuse, terminated Feb. 28.

“The days of enhancing services for low-income families with saving from declining caseloads ended with the recession and uncertainties around federal funding of welfare reform and child care,” welfare advisor Miller said in a recent WorkFirst bulletin. “These are painful cuts, but necessary to stay within budget.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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