Computer glitch delays pay for day care providers

April 12, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Computer glitches and other problems have caused a delay in payments to thousands of day care providers who watch children of low-income families, according to state officials.

Providers and child advocates are blaming payment problems on the Department of Human Resources, which until recently managed the state's child care subsidy program. DHR oversaw development of a computer system that is supposed to track such payments, but when the system began Feb. 19, it failed to print some invoices.

"We want to make sure DHR steps up to the plate on this," said Vickie Banks, a licensed day care provider in Baltimore and board member of the Maryland State Family Child Care Association. "This was DHR's baby. What happened? Someone should get fired."

But state officials said yesterday that the situation was complex and that despite DHR's role in the development of the system, other problems resulted in the delay.

Officials with the Maryland State Department of Education, which took over the child care subsidy program July 1, said they were working with officials at DHR to address providers' concerns.

"We are in this together," said Rolf Grafwallner, an assistant superintendent with the education department. "It took us a while to get a handle on the problems."

Grafwallner said that providers who have not received checks should contact state officials by telephone or e-mail. He explained that in addition to computer problems, some checks to providers have been delayed because they owed back taxes or had failed to renew their business license. In addition, some data, including the number of children a provider cares for, might need to be updated.

Although it is unclear how many providers have been affected by the payment problems, state officials said that out of an average of $10.2 million paid to providers statewide every six weeks, $4.6 million had been paid as of yesterday.

"We don't want mothers not to be able to take their children to day care," said Elyn Garrett Jones, a spokeswoman for DHR.

Most families who participate in the subsidized child care program are in urban areas such as Baltimore and Prince George's County, state officials said.

The child care program was initiated nearly three decades ago but gained new importance in the 1990s with welfare reform, which forced families receiving aid to transition to job training and employment.

Although Maryland has moved most of those families into the work force, there is still a need for subsidized child care. Many low-income working families still rely on the program to provide care for their children, and some pay as much as $300 per child per month for it, said Clinton Macsherry, director of public policy for the Maryland Committee for Children.

"This is having a dreadful effect on providers who need these checks the most: people who have mortgage payments to make and other bills to pay, and who are, in many cases, in low-income areas of the city where they are needed most," Macsherry said.

Childcare providers who are encountering problems receiving payments should contact state officials at 1-866-243-8796 or email POC.HELP@msde.

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