HELENA (AP) - Despite a final-day legislative fix that pumped more money into child-care subsidies, welfare officials said the budget for such services could be in trouble within the next two years.
State-sponsored child care, which became one of the session's most contentious budget debates, got an additional $6 million on Saturday.
But state officials said a struggling economy and growing welfare rolls have left them wondering what will happen when the money runs out.
''If we spend this money in fiscal 2004 and nothing gets better, then 2005 will be a very difficult year,'' Hank Hudson, head of the state Child and Family Services Division, told the Great Falls Tribune.
The additional funds came from a budget amendment offered by Sen. John Cobb, R-Augusta, one of the most vocal advocates for maintaining the child-care budget.
Cobb had argued that cutting child-care funds would make it difficult for many low-income parents to find or keep jobs, thus increasing the welfare rolls, which already face potential cuts.
Cobb's amendment will reduce direct welfare payments slightly because it borrows from that budget to fund the child-care payments.
The amendment, attached Saturday to House Bill 2, the session's major spending bill, increases child-care subsidies to $25 million for the next year. That's about the same amount being spent this year, with some 10,000 kids served by the program.
But child-care subsidies in the 2005 budget will be $7 million to $8 million less, state health officials said.
Hudson said he hopes the money can be used to help people get off welfare and find decent jobs so the state can reduce or maintain direct assistance to families on welfare.
''It's going to be tricky,'' he said. ''We're going to have to get down and look at this child care money and see if we can target it at people who would reduce the rolls.''
Cobb's provision takes $3 million in federal funds that support cash assistance and transferred it to the child care account. The transfer means cash assistance will be reduced by about $50 a month, from its current level of $507 for a family of three.
The remainder of the money came from the state general fund and money that had been designated for tobacco prevention and other health programs.