By Judy King and other concerned members of Hill County Family Support Coalition
Many of you may be aware of the funding crisis currently facing Montana's state budget. This crisis has resulted in the need to cut general spending. One area that is being cut is the state match fund for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. This fund provides essential match to draw down federal dollars for early childhood programs in Montana. This is an important week for all of us to contact our local representatives and senators before they head to Helena for the special session on Monday.
Cuts to child-care assistance for the low-income working families is one major issue that needs to be addressed. Low-income working parents need help paying for child care they can't work without it. One year of full-time regulated child care costs more than a year's tuition and fees at a Montana university. In fiscal year 2001, more than 12,500 children from 7,400 low-income working families received help paying for child care statewide. Locally, approximately 140 families per month utilize child-care subsidies to help defray the cost of their child care so they can work. Recent reports indicate that a two-parent working family from Hill County with an infant and preschooler in child care will have an average child-care cost of $734 a month.
Child-care funding was cut by 10 percent in the state's June budget reductions. The total loss (state and federal) to the childcare program was $1.2 million. As a result, child-care services have been frozen and the child-care subsidy program has reached capacity. As a result, the Early Childhood Services Bureau has implemented a childcare waiting list beginning Aug. 1. The waiting list will apply to the following families: low-income working families who do not receive public assistance, and teen parents attending high school or GED classes. Priority for receiving child-care subsidies will go to families with the lowest income, with respect to family size and federal poverty guidelines. If families are at the same relative income level, the application date will serve as a tiebreaker.
Families receiving public assistance benefits and families who have a child with special needs will not be subject to the child-care waiting list. Based on applications received for assistance in past years, that could potentially cause approximately 80 families to be placed on the waiting list during August and September in Hill, Liberty and Blaine counties. If these families are placed on a waiting list for child-care subsidy, some will be forced to quit their jobs; some may leave children unattended or alone. Is that what we want for children?
The Tropila Amendment to House Bill 2 proposes to restore the lost funding to the state's child-care budget. It does this by using part of a $2.2 million federal award received by the state Department of Public Health and Human Services for successful placement of public assistance participants into jobs. It makes sense to use a portion of this award to support child care, because many low-income workers can't work without child-care assistance. We urge you to show your support of the Tropila Amendment to HB2.
In addition, these cuts to the Child Care and Development Block Grant program services have been implemented:
For the lowest-income families that qualify for a subsidy, copayments will increase from $5 to $10 a month. This will require an administrative rule change, and will likely be effective by Nov. 1.
Child-care providers that serve children in the subsidy program will see the rate frozen. The state is required by federal regulation to conduct a child-care provider market rate survey this summer and have historically increased rates following this market rate survey, usually to become effective in October. However, a child- care provider rate increase will not happen.
The contract base for all child care resource and referral programs in our area, this is HRDC's Child Care Link Program will be cut by 3 percent, effective Oct. 1.
These and other cuts affect all consumers of child care. Child-care providers and places of business that employ workers with young children will be impacted. Children will be negatively affected. As a community we need to take action.
You can contact local representatives and senators by phone or e-mail. Check the legislative Web site for their contact information: www.leg.state.mt.us.