State budget woes to affect county child-care funding
To qualify for Colorado Childcare Assistance Program
Family size Monthly income (185 percent of the state poverty level)
Two $0 to $1,634
SUMMIT COUNTY – State budget constraints forced Summit County social service officials to place a freeze on child-care assistance funds in September, making it even harder for low-income families to afford to live in the area.
The effects of the freeze are just now starting to be felt, county Social Services Director Sue Gruber said at a county commissioner work session Monday morning.
The Colorado Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP) was implemented to provide financial assistance to low-income families to help pay for childcare. Funds allocated to Summit County by the state historically have been supplemented by other counties’ unused allocations, and by a portion of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars.
“Historically, we’ve overspent,” Gruber said. “But every year, we’ve been bailed out. Now we’ve been told we need to stay within our allocation because the state can’t bail us out.”
In Summit County, families making 185 percent of the state poverty level are eligible to participate in the program. According to state statistics from 1997 – the most up-to-date available – 116 families, or 4.5 percent of the county’s families, are living at poverty level.
Last year, Summit County received $147,000 from the state. But with changes in welfare reform laws and unemployment numbers on the rise, more families are requesting those funds – to the tune of another $100,000, Gruber said.
“More people are accessing childcare,” Gruber said. “The numbers have gone up considerably, and there’s not that pool of money at the end of the year to distribute to other counties. We don’t anticipate it to be any better next year, either. In fact, we think it will be a lot worse. And we can’t afford to serve the people we have now.”
That’s forced the county to limit its monthly assistance to $22,000, she said.
Qualifying Summit County parents – statewide, 91 percent of those on the program are single parents – generally must pay about $50 to $100 a month for day care, said Amy Damonte, a county resource and referral specialist. The state program then makes up the difference.
Summit is one of five counties throughout the state – the others include Alamosa, Delta, Grand and Jefferson – forced to reduce the amount of financial assistance provided for the program and place a freeze on new families applying for assistance.
Currently, an average of 37 local families participate in the program; another 17 are on a waiting list.
“People call, but all they do is get put on a waiting list,” Damonte said. “It’s difficult to know what’s happening to them.”
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there,” Gruber said. “People will call and find out there’s a freeze and don’t put their name on the list.”
A statewide Child Care Allocation Committee, to which Summit County belongs, is looking at different formulas to allocate funds. But, according to Gruber, none of those proposals will benefit Summit County, because resort areas have unique challenges that aren’t always addressed in the formulas. Some of those include the high cost of housing and seasonal employment.
“I hate to say the sky is falling, but when the economy is good, this program works,” said county nursing director Marilyn Repsher. “When the economy isn’t as good, it doesn’t work as well.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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