County cuts funds for child care assistance

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Changes in Moffat County Social Service's Child Care Assistance program are going to make the lives of some county residents much more complicated.

At the end of December, the halfway point of Social Service's fiscal year, Social Services had spent 82 percent of their child care allocations. Cuts had to be made.

On Wednesday, Marie Peer, Social Services director, presented the Moffat County Board of Commissioners with a plan to get childcare expenditures for low-income families and Colorado Works participants back to levels the county can afford.

Social Services can afford to spend about $22,000 a month on childcare assistance. But in 2003, the department spent almost twice that three times.

Social Services took what it spent in July and August and used those figures to project expenditures for an entire year, concluding that the county would overspend its state and federal childcare allocations by $179,000.

To avoid overspending, the commissioner board approved four changes to the childcare expenditure policy.

First, eligibility for childcare assistance will drop from 145 percent of the federal poverty level to 130 percent. That's equivalent to a gross income of $1,313 per month for a single parent. A family of three is at the 130 percent poverty level when income drops below $1,654 per month, and a family of four at $1,993 per month.

Families with children under 12 can receive childcare assistance for afterschool care, before-school care, and day care. Peer said mostly low-income families use the program.

"These funds do help people work and stay employed," Peer said. "How do you work if you can't pay for child care?"

Four Moffat County families will lose child care assistance due to the eligibility level decrease, Peer said. Because assistance is graduated based on income, a family at the 145 percent poverty level is responsible for some childcare expenses.

Amanda Schneider is a single mother who works as an advertising representative at the Craig Daily Press and receives childcare assistance through Social Services. Currently, she pays $150 a month for day care for her 1-year-old daughter. Social Services pays for the remaining $450 in childcare costs.

Due to the eligibility decrease, Schneider will no longer be eligible for childcare assistance. She'll now need to pay $600 a month in childcare costs for her daughter and she doesn't know how she'll do it.

"Where am I going to come up with that?" Schneider asked, shortly after receiving a call from Peer notifying her of the policy change. "Between rent, utilities, groceries and day care, where am I going to come up with an extra $450 a month?"

Daycare is most expensive for children age 2 and younger because childcare centers can only have two 2-year-olds per worker, Peer said. It isn't uncommon for daycare centers to charge $30 a day to care for a child younger than 2.

This is the second time the commissioner board has been forced to lower the eligibility level in four months. In Nov. 2003, the board lowered the eligibility level from 185 percent to 145 percent.

But despite the reduction in eligibility, Social Services' client list has continued to grow. To stop that trend, a waiting list will be instituted for childcare assistance. Current eligible participants won't be removed from the list, but new applicants will have to wait for assistance until expenditure levels fall back to about $22,000 a month.

Peer couldn't predict how many people would be affected by the implementation of a waiting list. But client levels have risen every month since Dec. 2002, with the exception of Nov. 2003, when the eligibility level was first reduced.

In Dec. 2002, 56 clients participated in the childcare assistance program. That number more than doubled by Jan. 2004, when it reached an all-time high of 126 clients participating in the program.

Peer attributed the climbing client base to increased community awareness of the program.

As a third step to curb expenditures, clients enrolled in secondary education courses will no longer be eligible for childcare assistance, unless they participate in the Colorado Works program. Peer did not know how many people, if any, would be affected by this policy change. Parents enrolled in middle school and high school will still be eligible for assistance.

Lastly, funding for the assistance program will be directed entirely through Colorado Works. Previously, funding came partially from the federal government, partially from Colorado Works, and the rest from other sources.

Moffat County has overspent on childcare assistance for the past two years, Peer said. In 2003, when the county spent $89,000 more than was allocated for childcare, the board of commissioners authorized Peer to pull the needed funds from the Colorado Works reserves. But projected expenditures are too great to be covered by that means in 2004.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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