- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

An office of the D.C. Department of Human Services has notified child care providers that beginning Saturday, the city will discontinue funding for hundreds of children of low-income families for the rest of the fiscal year.
"Please be advised that you will not receive reimbursement from DHS for any children you enroll in the subsidy system on or after June 1, 2002," Barbara Ferguson Kamara, executive director of the D.C. Office of Early Childhood Development wrote in a May 22 memo. Child care providers said the memo came as a shock.
According to the Early Childhood Office, which oversees D.C. child-care subsidy assistance programs, the District served 23,801 children, or 72 percent of the 31,500 eligible for services, during fiscal year 2001.
So far this year, the office has served 2,000 more children than it was budgeted for, with nearly 19,000 receiving subsidized child care. For fiscal year 2002, the Early Childhood office budgeted nearly $21 million for child care services. As of March, they had already paid out more than $24 million.
Mrs. Kamara's memo was directed to the Level II child care centers, which have the authority to enroll children directly and bill the District, based on a sliding scale.
Child care advocates estimate the number of children affected to be anywhere from 600 to 4,000 a figure the city disputes.
Mrs. Kamara said several hundred children who would have enrolled this summer in programs would now not be eligible, but those already in the system would be allowed to stay.
"If you are in, you are in. Even if you change programs, you are in," she said.
In the memo, Mrs. Kamara said that "budgetary constraints" were to blame and the freeze would remain in effect until at least Sept. 30, the end of the current budget cycle.
"We regret the need to take this drastic action, however, due to budgetary constraints we must limit new placements into the subsidy system at this time," Mrs. Kamara wrote.
Not all children currently receiving subsidies will be eliminated under the new rules. Children in foster care and protective services, disabled children and children with teen parents, as well as welfare parents who do not work, will continue receiving the subsidy.
The children who would not be eligible include those whose parents are working, are in higher education or training for their GED, or who are in vocational rehabilitation programs.
"They are contradicting themselves," said Andrick Pestano, a twentysomething mother of four and a former welfare recipient who now works full-time as an accountant's assistant in the District. "It makes no sense. They are telling us in order to be in child care, you can't be working. Yet, if you are not working, you are not making money. It's a no-win situation."
Debra Byrd, the Head Start program director for the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Care Center in Northwest, said working parents are getting mixed messages, which ultimately hurt the children. The Mazique Center has 350 children registered, including Miss Pestano's 5-year-old daughter.
"You have people like Andrick, who have done nothing more than what the system required, and now all of a sudden they find out that it was nothing more than rhetoric," she said. "What about their American dream?"
"If this takes place, it will destroy the welfare-to-work families and will have a domino effect," said Bobbi Block, executive director of the Washington Child Development Council, a Head Start-affiliated child advocacy organization.
"There will be a huge fallout. It will not only freeze out working families, but will undermine the financial security of child care in the District. Some programs will have to close."
McKinley Crudup, administrative director for the Allen AME Church Day Care Center in Southeast, said the change would drive many parents out of work.


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