Day care workers cry foul over pay

Providers, seeking money they say is owed them, rally at education headquarters

May 02, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,sun reporter

Day care workers rallied in front of state education headquarters in Baltimore yesterday in hopes of getting money they say is owed to them for caring for children of low-income working families and families moving off of welfare.

The child care providers have been complaining of late and have missed payments for several months. They say that the state has done little to help them. They say that a telephone help line set up by the state has been useless and that they are falling behind on their bills.

State officials countered that payment problems - caused in part by faulty computer software - have been corrected, and that nearly 100 percent of invoices for the most recent pay period have been processed.

And while they admit that there is still a handful of providers who are missing money, they say they are working with those individuals to help them.

"Calls [for help] have decreased significantly," said Rolf Grafwall- ner, an assistant superintendent with the education department. "We had close to 600 to 700 calls in the first part of April, and now we are in the double digits. Most issues have been resolved."

Yesterday's rally, during which about 40 day care providers marched in a circle and shook soda cans filled with pennies, was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, which is trying organize day care workers in Maryland.

State officials said they wondered why more workers were not present if so many were supposedly still without pay.

"We passed around a clipboard, and there were four people who wanted information," Grafwall- ner said. "We suspect this was a union action."

Sadie Robson Crabtree, a spokeswoman for the union, said that she faxed a list of 150 day care providers who are still missing payments to the education department yesterday.

Crabtree said some providers didn't get a chance to sign because they were being ushered off state property by security guards when the list was being distributed.

Some who attended the rally spoke of a grim financial reality: They said they were owed thousands of dollars and were delinquent on mortgage payments and other bills. After the noon rally outside the education building, the group moved inside to the lobby and demanded to meet with State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.

"Somebody is doing something with my money," said Catherine Waddell, 63, who cares for eight children at her home in Baltimore's Walbrook neighborhood.

Waddell said she is owed $2,674 and added that the state should do a better job taking care of low-income children. "Our kids deserve more than this," she said.

Waddell is among 7,500 day care providers statewide who care for children of low-income working families and families coming off welfare assistance.

The state pays day care providers to take care of the children so that parents - who also pay a portion of the cost - can keep their jobs and children can receive early education. An average of $10.2 million is paid to providers every six weeks, according to state officials.

After about 15 minutes of waiting, Grafwallner met with members of the group and reassured them that they would get their money.

"We take our responsibility seriously," Grafwallner said.

The initial problem with the day care checks has been blamed on faulty computer software. The state switched from one computerized payment system to another in February and some invoices failed to print.

Management changes - the state recently moved the program from the Department of Human Resources to the Maryland State Department of Education - have added to the confusion.

As a result of the payment dispute, the state is working with the Maryland State Family Care Association to hold town hall meetings across the state for day care providers. A session will be held in Prince George's County today and in Baltimore on Saturday.

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