Childcare cutback could cost taxpayers

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos was worried about "the cliff effect" after commissioners changed eligibility guidelines for subsidized daycare last month.

Raftopoulos said people experience the cliff effect when they've been working to get off government assistance, then encounter setbacks due to cuts in services they've used as a toehold to independence. They lose hope and end up back in the welfare system.

When the commission voted to cut childcare assistance for parents enrolled in higher education programs, Raftopoulos thought taxpayers might be footing the bill for more welfare checks.

In an attempt to avert or at least postpone the cliff effect, the Moffat County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to extend educational childcare assistance for one more month, checking a previous decision to cancel the service as of Mar. 1.

It would cost $10,715 to extend educational childcare for the four cases from March 1 through the conclusion of the spring Colorado Northwest Community College semester in May. It would cost $4,285 to extend the service through March.

The commissioners chose the latter option, and the funding will come from a state grant the county received for reducing out-of-wedlock births.

Four families were to be affected by the cut. At the time of the decision, Social Services Director Marie Peer had not been sure that anyone would be adversely effected by the cut.

After discovering that four families were to be affected, Raftopoulos asked Social Services personnel to explore options to extend childcare payments, alternative options for those receiving payments and the cost of continuing payments.

The new decision on childcare assistance should give the affected families some more time to adjust to the change, Raftopoulos said. Most of those affected had been paying $150 a month for childcare, with the remaining expenses covered by the assistance program. Following the cut, their childcare expenses jumped to about $600 a month.

When the commissioners cut educational childcare assistance, they also lowered the poverty eligibility level from 145 percent to 130 percent. Families that became ineligible for assistance due to the decrease in poverty level will not be effected by the new decision.

Local United Way Director Corrie Scott attended the meeting on Wednesday and expressed interest in supporting a nonprofit childcare program. But no such program currently exists in Moffat County. Four such programs currently operate in Routt County.

The United Way can only fund nonprofit and government organizations, Scott said. Were such an organization to be started in Moffat County, the United Way might support it.

Commissioners Darryl Steele and Les Hampton voiced support for such a move. Like most of the state, the county is currently woefully underfunded for childcare. The cuts had to be made because Social Services had spent most of their childcare allocation halfway through their fiscal year.

The Colorado Works Reserve fund is at $30,000. That fund has been declining for years, Hampton said, and the county needs to find a way to build it up again. However, no one had any solutions at the time of the meeting.

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

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