Summit County sees cuts in child care assistance funds
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – Fewer local families will be eligible for help with child care costs next month when a local program is to be slimmed because of funding shortages.
By July 1 the county’s Child Care Assistance Program is expected have suspended enrollment, established waiting lists and lowered the cap on people it serves. As demand has steadily increased, finances to supplement the program have decreased.
“It’s just hard when people are struggling,” said Sue Gruber, county social services director. “But if the money’s not there, the money’s not there.”
The existing program serves about 170 children, and the cuts would affect about 14 percent of those served.
Relative to the rest of the state, Summit County’s child care program recently has been able to offer more support because of a tax increase voters approved in 2005.
“We’re the only county in the state that has something like that,” Gruber said. “It has helped us serve more clients … We were pretty fortunate to have that passed in our community, and child care is a huge need here.”
A few years after the tax increase creating the “Right Start” program was approved, the cap on the incomes served was increased to the maximum: 225 percent of the federal poverty level.
County Commissioners on Tuesday gave staff the nod to reduce that number to 200 percent of the federal poverty level – about $44,100 for a family of four – along with the other changes.
Another option is to divert more money from “Right Start,” which is spread among a variety of programs such as teacher training and capital improvements to support local child care services.
“It seems like all of these measures are going to be necessary to keep the doors open,” County Commissioner Bob French said Tuesday.
Gruber said her department aims to exempt children of teenaged parents and people “just coming off poverty assistance,” as well as children with special circumstances.
The county last year used federal stimulus finances and leftover money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to supplement the child care program.
But the stimulus money expires for state fiscal year 2011 (July to June). And with the economic recession, more needy families are using the TANF money.
It appears the child care program will be about $270,000 short for the state fiscal year, but it’s not yet certain how much money will be coming from the state and federal levels.
Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said the funding is based on what was received last year and that it’s “complicated” how funding trickles from the federal level through the state to the county.
County Commissioner Thomas Davidson on Tuesday asked staff for quarterly updates on the child care program’s financial status.
SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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