Day care aid for poor threatened by shortfall

September 29, 1994|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

About 2,100 children of working poor parents could become victims of the state's success in putting welfare recipients to work if Gov. William Donald Schaefer doesn't come up with $5 million to pay for their day care this year.

Either way, officials say they must overhaul the way they provide day care help or risk putting working parents back into the welfare system they have struggled to escape.

State Department of Human Resources officials yesterday tried to avoid cutting that many children by changing eligibility requirements for their $64 million day care subsidy program. They proposed cutting 932 children of parents making between $21,000 and $31,000 a year and reducing a number of other payments, including those for some children with teen mothers or whose relatives take care of them.

But a legislative committee refused to approve the measures, telling the department to persuade Mr. Schaefer to come up with the money.

Department spokeswoman Helen Szablya said that, without the $5 million, those children whose parents earn more than $21,000 would be cut from the program by June, along with 1,100 children "who would be next least affected."

The funding crisis has been going on for several years, as the day care subsidy program grew from 8,000 children in 1988 to 25,000 this year.

Parents on welfare in Project Independence, Maryland's version of a federal program that trains recipients for the work force, became part of the program several years ago so their children could be cared for while they got work experience.

As more families on welfare got day-care subsidies, fewer of the state's working poor families could. About 4,000 children of working parents who would qualify for day-care assistance are on a waiting list.

Luther W. Starnes, the department's newly appointed secretary, found himself using his first legislative hearing to argue to stop providing day care for some families.

But legislators and advocates for welfare reform say it would be the highest irony to push working parents already getting paid day care back to welfare just to be able to watch their children.

"It's the most ridiculous thing in the world," said Susan Leviton, founder of Advocates for Children and Youth.

Shanna Clark, a 23-year-old mother of two from Dundalk, went off welfare after attending business college through Project Independence. She has a part-time job with a temporary service, but still will bring in less than $10,000 this year.

"I love working," Ms. Clark said. "I will be out of luck if I have to come up with the money" for day care.

As it is, the state program provides an average of about $3,800 per child, while the market rate for child care in the Baltimore area is $5,000, said Sandy Skolnik, director of the Maryland Committee for Children.

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