Officials OK funds for childcare in Carroll

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carroll County will pay $30,000 to make sure low-income families have affordable day care for the next several months.

The county commissioners voted yesterday to fund the "purchase of care" vouchers through June. The money will allow the Carroll County Family Center to continue to offer childcare to the working poor at a reduced cost.

State grant money for the five-year-old program will run out at the end of this month and has yet to be renewed. Absent the commissioners' contribution, many parents of infants and toddlers would have no child-care options and might have to resign from their jobs.

"After Jan. 31, the total burden of childcare will fall on parents who are making minimum wage," said Joyce Tierney, director of the family center. "I am speaking for the working poor and their babies. This would be a financial hardship for them."

It takes $12,000 a month to operate the center in Westminster, with parents contributing about half that cost. The average hourly income of those parents is $8.36 for jobs that are mostly in the service sector. They cannot afford to make up the difference caused by lack of state funding, Tierney said.

"There is no way for families like this to survive without this subsidy," said Stephen Mood, executive director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County. "We offer a quality program for children in the first three years of their lives."

The center provides childcare on a sliding-fee scale based on income, as well as classes to help parents finish their high school education and reach self-sufficiency.

The facility can care for as many as 20 children. It has 16 now and has not filled the vacancies because of the funding problem, Mood said.

Adding to the dilemma is the freezing of the care subsidies at 2002 rates. The average parent pays about $85 weekly for child care at the center.

"These people are often spending a quarter of their income on childcare, but there is no other place less costly for them," said George Geise, director of social services in the county. "Without this service, they would become unemployed. Our welfare rolls would go back up. We have to have assistance to help these people."

Tierney brought photographs of smiling children and parents to the session to put a human face on the dilemma.

"This is an enormous problem," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "I want to work with you to see what else we can do to give these working moms and dads a chance. The cost of childcare has gone up far too much."

The commissioners expressed concerns that their action could lead the state to relinquish the program it has funded for the past five years.

"I hate to take this over, if there is any hope the governor might bring it back," Gouge said.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said government should provide safety nets, such as the child-care program, to those in need.

"We can afford a temporary fix to make sure day care stays available and affordable, but this problem needs more than that," Minnich said. "We have to look at alternative funding."

Mood and Geise have been searching for private grant money to keep the program going, should the state not resume the grant, but they have been unsuccessful.

Ted Zaleski, county director of management and budget, called the lack of state funding "another situation where state actions are leading us to interesting choices. We should only consider this a short-term solution."

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