Eagle County to expand childcare financial aid
EAGLE COUNTY — The Eagle County Commissioners signed off Monday on a plan to expand its Childcare Assistance Program for lower-income local families.
The program, primarily funded through state sources, currently has 65 participating families and a 38-family waiting list. Using a newly-available pot of state money, the county will be able to offer aid for childcare expenses to the families on the waiting list. Those families all earn $3,279 per month or less for a family of four, 165 percent of the federal poverty level.
“A lot of single parents here meet that (income level),” Commissioner Jill Ryan said. Ryan added that children in the program must either be U.S. citizens or “legally present” in this county. Once a family is qualified, the program pays direct payments to providers. Parents also have to pay a monthly fee that’s based on their household income.
Ryan said the program is open to parents who are working, are taking classes or, in come cases, looking for work.
The current program was already running a deficit for 2015. Current costs are estimated at about $650,000 — about $40,000 more than state funding and a $60,000 local match covered.
A GAMBLE COMMISSIONERS ARE WILLING TO MAKE
Eagle County Economic Services Director Kathy Lyons said the shortfall will be covered by state money. Lyons said all the money for the state program hasn’t been used. Since only four counties participating in the program have waiting lists, that money will go to programs in those areas.
But opening up the program to include those on the waiting list carries some risk. Ryan acknowledged that her notes from a Monday morning session on the topic include, “This feels like a bet.”
“This isn’t guaranteed (money),” Ryan said. “If the state (in the future) can’t make us whole, the county has to pick up the costs.”
Those costs are significant to get families off the current waiting list — between $250,000 and $300,000. And families won’t be removed from the program until they no longer need it.
While nothing is guaranteed, Ryan said there’s a good chance that the state program’s funding levels will be available in future years. With that in mind, Ryan said expanding the program is a gamble she and her fellow commissioners are willing to make.
‘GREAT WAY TO LEVERAGE DOLLARS’
Given the relatively small amount of matching funds provided from the county, Ryan said the state program is a “great way to leverage our dollars.” The program also helps more than families.
Ryan said many local childcare providers aren’t at full capacity. That means less revenue for those commercial and licensed in-home businesses. Empty spaces can make it hard to make payroll. Ryan said getting families on the waiting list into licensed childcare will put several local facilities at, or near, full enrollment.
A LOT OF WORK TO DO
The state’s fiscal year begins July 1, and the expanded local program will start then. With just more than a week before that date, there’s a lot of work to do.
Eagle County Economic Services Manager Megan Burch said some paperwork will be need to be completed, but said the process can be finished over the next several weeks.
“In some ways, we’re just so lucky to have the opportunity from the state to serve this many more families,” Ryan said. “There’s room for these children, and it will affect them and the providers.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.