Thousands of families may lose child-care checks

Lawmakers may add money to keep state program going

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

Some Alaska families may soon get letters telling them to find another way to pay for child care.

Unless money is appropriated before March 1, thousands of Alaska families that get help to pay for child care will stop getting that assistance, said Yvonne Chase, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education and Early Development.

``A large number of people would stop receiving checks,'' she said.

People in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough could be cut off in less than a week, with Juneau residents not far behind, Chase said.

In a supplemental budget bill request from Gov. Tony Knowles, the Democrat asked for $1.5 million of general funds to cover the cost of a state child-care assistance program through the June 30 end of this fiscal year. Knowles asked for $2.7 million for this year, but the budget approved by lawmakers included under $1 million for the program.

The co-chairman of the budget-writing House Finance Committee said he has a plan to add money to keep the program going.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, said will take the child-care funds out of the supplemental budget bill and put them into another measure, which he'll try to ``fast-track'' through the Legislature. That way, he said, child care will see more money before the checks stop going out, and the issue will be kept out of any fight that develops over other supplemental budget requests.

People on the edge of eligibility would be affected first, if the money runs out before a spending measure is approved, said Chase. That eligibility is based on income, the number of children in the home and the community in which a person resides. Depending on those factors, a single mother with two children can have 25 percent to 97 percent of the cost of child care paid for.

As of December, the program assisted 4,734 children in Alaska, with about a quarter of them connected to welfare-to-work programs, Chase said. Another 1,000 kids are eligible today, but are on a waiting list pending an expansion of the program, she said.

In Juneau, Catholic Community Service administers the state program. Executive Director Rosemary Hagevig said she's been ``gratified'' by Mulder's support and will work to generate similar support from the Senate Finance Committee. If money isn't found soon, she said, lots of people in Juneau will feel the pinch.

The organization's board of directors decided to give a month's notice to parents if it looks like assistance checks will stop.

``For our recipients those letters would have to go out about the middle of next month,'' Hagevig said. ``We're serving about 180 families in Juneau, so we have a big job ahead of us.''

Mulder said the Republican majority has tried to make sure people who try to get off welfare get help, which includes child-care assistance, and he intends to continue that effort.

``I just learned yesterday that they would be sending out letters saying `find alternatives,''' he said. ``That's not the message I want to send.

``No person who went through welfare-to-work has been denied day-care assistance unless they got a job that made them economically ineligible.''

The Senate Finance Committee is also going over Knowles' supplemental budget request. A co-chairman of that committee, Sen. Sean Parnell, said he understands the pressing nature of the plea for money, but wants to be sure the program is working as intended first.

``I'm generally supportive, but I want more details,'' the Anchorage Republican said.

Chase, with the Knowles administration, said her department has asked for $4.5 million to fund the program for the 2001 fiscal year to provide assistance to 2,000 additional eligible children.

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