Child care aid denied as state plans budget cuts

Social services quit taking applications Jan. 15, anticipating less funding

Child care aid denied as cuts planned

February 04, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The state's proposed budget cuts are already denying child care subsidies to working people in Howard County and could cripple the county's Child Care Resource Center, if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's budget plans go through.

Howard's social services office began Jan. 15 turning away applicants for child care subsidies at the request of state officials, said Sam Marshall, social services director, though people already enrolled in welfare-to-work programs are still getting help.

Howard gets $3.1 million of the $134 million in voucher money being distributed statewide this year. Ehrlich is proposing to cut 19 percent, or $25 million of that for 2004.

Kathi Heslin, assistant director of social services, said, "My assumption is our caseload will increase again. Either children will be left unattended, or people will stop working" and go back on welfare. She said the office typically gets up to 50 requests for help each month, but it has no count of how many have been turned away. "They get angry and leave," Heslin said, often refusing to fill out forms for a waiting list.

Debbie Yare, program director for Howard's Child Care Resource Center, said the cuts would take $150,000 -- more than half the agency's annual budget of $270,000.

That means, she said, that programs to help people find day care, to train providers and parents, and to help support after-school programs for county children would be left lacking funds.

Gary Arthur, county recreation and parks director, said his department provides "in-kind" help for after-school programs at Cedar Lane Park and Patuxent Valley Middle School, but the cash to run after-school programs for 600 county children comes from the resource center -- one of 13 in Maryland.

"I think we have made a big difference by being here the last four years," Yare said.

Statewide, the cut in 2004 to child resource centers would remove $4 million of the $5.8 million appropriated this year, part of Ehrlich's effort to deal with the projected $1.3 billion shortfall next year, a spokesman said.

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who heads the county's House delegation and serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said, "I think that kind of cut is devastating to the program. It's almost incomprehensible that they would do those kinds of cuts to programs that would affect children. You can't do legitimate and honest welfare reform unless you provide child care and transportation for people who want to get back to work."

Yare said the center, in an office building on Ridge Road at U.S. 40, helped 3,162 callers last year with referrals to child care providers, and helped train 1,433 people, including parents and providers trying to get a home day care business started. The center acts as a clearinghouse for day care information in the county and spreads information about day care trends and needs.

Through Victoria Goodman, a spokeswoman, County Executive James N. Robey said, "We're not going to second guess each line-item cut in the governor's proposal. The crux of the matter, however, is that the county is not in a fiscal position to backfill the loss of state funding -- whether child care, transportation or education. This latest cut is indicative of the type of uncertainty we will face repeatedly in the weeks ahead."

Budget cuts announced earlier by Ehrlich would cost Howard County $6.1 million in state funding, mainly in highway maintenance money, though Robey has said he will make up for removal of state funding for two police HotSpots programs in Long Reach and Harper's Choice.

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