More state money available for child care

But some are worried amount of funds is not stable

Posted: Thursday, June 01, 2000

With more money, state-subsidized child care may be available for all children who qualify in Juneau in the coming fiscal year.

The organization that administers the state's child-care program in town is about a month away from deciding whether to cover all eligible families for a while, or most all year long, said Rosemary Hagevig, executive director of Catholic Community Services.

Hagevig hasn't had a long talk with the state yet, but said she's concerned that getting all the kids off the waiting list in Juneau could mean dropping them off again after a few months. She said a program that would be stable all year would probably be a better option.

As of Wednesday, 88 children were on Juneau's waiting list. Some, Hagevig said, may be in another program or no longer eligible.

As it is, all the children with families on or recently off welfare programs are being served, she said. The waiting list includes children who are eligible for the program based on family income.

Jim McKenzie, an accountant for the Division of Early Development, said stability of the funding is a concern shared by other communities, including Anchorage. Some, he said, may decide to leave some eligible families on their waiting lists, rather than give them short-term help.

``That's the dilemma that all the folks are in,'' McKenzie said. ``They don't want to bring them on and then, wham-o, drop them off.'' Some parents who can suddenly afford child care, he said, may get a job, only to be forced to quit when the money runs out.

The issue is particularly critical now, he said, because school ended today. Rather than child care taking up a few hours, it's an all-day affair during the summer.

In small communities, the paperwork can be dealt with quickly. Not so, McKenzie said, in a big town like Anchorage where the city administers the program.

As of March, there were 1,615 children's names on the state child-care assistance waiting list. Of those, 1,091 were in Anchorage and 161 in Fairbanks.

Typically some 7,550 children from 4,160 families are being served by the child-care program, according to McKenzie and Mary Lorence, child-care coordinator with the Division of Public Assistance. Her division runs the program for families on welfare. McKenzie's division handles families coming off welfare and those who qualify due to their income levels.

The state, McKenzie said, is leaving it up to administrators whether to eliminate the waiting lists. For the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, there's $1.5 million to spend. But there simply isn't time, he said, to fill out the paperwork and get that much money out the door by then.

For the 2001 fiscal year, there'll be $21.4 million or so, he said. The final amount of money for the program won't be known until after Gov. Tony Knowles makes his final budget determinations.

There's clearly been a $1.2 million increase over the current fiscal year, and maybe another $1 million for the program coming through indirect means, he said. At the start of the 2000 session, Knowles asked for $4.5 million more for the program, which would have cleared the waiting lists for the entire 2001 fiscal year.

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.

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