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Child care still elusive

Veronica Whitney

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of the county’s child care assistance program,” McAllister says. “And I would be in welfare if I wouldn’t get that help because I can’t afford the $47-a-day child-care costs.”

Child care issues are very important in Eagle County, where child care can take up to 30 percent of a parent’s income, says Kathleen Forinash, director of Eagle County Health and Human Services.

McAllister, whose gross income is $1,500 a month, pays $600 in rent and $260 of the $900 monthly bill for Kaden’s child care. The rest is paid by the county’s Child Care Assistance Program.

As of July 1, however, fewer families will qualify for child care assistance in Eagle County, as County commissioners have approved lowering the eligibility level in the Program. For example, a family of four now qualifies with a maximum gross income of $3,394 a month. That is changing beginning July 1 to $2,721 a month.

McAllister, as other single parents and families who already are in the program, will not be affected by the change.

“We need to do this because we have to be fiscally responsible,” Forinash says. “We’ve seen an increase of 50 percent in the program’s budget. We’re trying to do what we can with what we have.”

The program provides families with money to pay for child care in licensed or legally exempt providers (family homes where a person cares for children of one family). Families in the program take care of 10 to 14 percent of the cost; the county pitches in the rest.

“Child care is one of the most important aspects of welfare reform,” Forinash says. “Many families have gotten out of welfare because they got help to afford child care. This is very much a survival issue for some families.”

Nearly 20.5 million American children of employed parents are in child care, reports the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research organization in Washington D.C.

Three out of four children four years old and younger (about 8.7 million), four out of five 5-year-olds (about 2 million), and half of school-age children younger than 13 (about 9.8 million) with employed parents are regularly in non-parental care when they are not in school, reports the 1999 National Survey of America’s Families.

An additional 10 percent of school-age children are usually home alone or with a sibling younger than 13 while their caretakers, predominantly mothers, are working.

Most children whose parents work are in some form of child care during nonschool hours, but the type of care varies dramatically, depending on family structure, income, and age of the child, according to new research from the Urban Institute.

In Eagle County, 47 families – for a total of 69 children – got help from the Child Care Assistance Program last year, at a cost of $326,000.

County commissioners have set the new eligibility level at 185 percent of the federal poverty level – instead of 225 percent, as it was calculated before. The federal government stipulates the minimum level can’t drop under 130 percent.

Even though Eagle County is increasing this year its contribution to the program from $10,000 to $90,000, to stay at 225 percent the program needs an additional $54,000 that it can’t afford, says Forinash.

Child care programs across the state are primarily funded by the federal government. In Eagle County, that contribution amounts to $326,000, which Forinash says isn’t enough.

“The federal government needs to increase the funding for child care,” she says. “This is key to welfare reform. These programs aren’t just about baby sitting. These are child-development programs where children learn

to read.”

Even if the eligibility level goes down, Eagle County would still offer a reasonable program compared to other counties across the state, Forinash says.

“It’s quite remarkable that the commissioners have decided to increase the county’s help. For example, El Paso and Jefferson (counties) had to cut the eligibility to 130 percent.”

The change in eligibility, Forinash says, will slow down the growth of the program, which in the past 18 months more than doubled, from 22 to 47 families.

“We can’t say how much it will change. One of the reasons for such growth is that people are more aware of the program. The big test will be in the fall when school starts again,” she says.

The county also is increasing the license capacity for child care in family homes.

“This is a good investment for the county to get more child-care providers,” Forinash says.

McAllister, meanwhile, says she’s thankful for the county’s social services.

“I’m a single mom and I’m very happy with my baby,” she says. “But I need all the help I can get.”

For more information on child care programs in Eagle County, call 328-8840.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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