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Local aid agencies await bill details

MANATEE — Provisions in the stimulus bill President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday could make child care, housing and nutritional services for the elderly more accessible for Manatee families, local leaders said Tuesday.

While details remain scarce on how much of the $789 billion will trickle down to the local level, some social service agencies are getting a sense of what services they will be able to expand.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $2 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant program, which nationwide will bring an additional 150,000 children into subsidized care and keep 200,000 children from being dropped from care.

“We hope that means the federal government will loosen eligibility requirements for care,” said Carol Hunt, director of Resource Connection for Kids. “Now, a part-time worker has to work 20 hours a week to qualify and a full-time worker has to work 25 hours. But many parents are having their hours cut below those eligibility requirements, which means they lose their child care.”

Getting those eligibility standards reduced to keep families in care is a statewide goal, said Paul Sharff, director of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County, which oversees how state and federal child-care dollars are spent locally.

“The last I heard Florida is going to get $43 million for child care and divide it up among early-learning coalitions statewide,” said Sharff. “I don’t know how that will work. But we need to get moving because so many children of the working poor are losing their benefits because their parents are losing hours or jobs.”

Sharff said he hopes the stimulus package works, but he worries that if it fails, there will be no money to pay for the additional children in child care.

“That’s my biggest concern,” Sharff said. “You bring in these billions of dollars, but what happens in a year or two when the money is gone if the package doesn’t work?”

Sharff thinks some of the child-care block grant should be invested in developing technology to track children in child care.

“It would help us put more children into care over a longer period of time because it would require fewer man hours to do the tracking,” Sharff said. “I would hope the state is going to have some leeway in how to spend those dollars.”

The stimulus bill allocates $10 billion to help expand the availability of quality affordable housing and help families facing foreclosure.

County staff are still studying how the foreclosure funds might affect Manatee County, said Cheri Coryea, director of Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department.

“We haven’t had a chance to digest the package,” Coryea said late Tuesday. “We’ve read it in its previous form and are working with all the departments in the county to align the package with any projects that may be available. Within the next 7 to 10 days, we will know if there are any projects we can move forward on.”

The county hopes to coordinate affordable, workforce and stabilization programs to create sustainable housing for new and existing residents and local workers, thereby stimulating the local economy.

Meals on Wheels is also likely to get a piece of the stimulus pie.

The stimulus bill provides $67 million for congregate nutrition services and $33 million for home-delivered meal programs.

The news thrilled Ellen Campbell, Meals on Wheels director.

“We are certainly hoping we are going to get money from the stimulus,” Campbell said. “It will flow down to the states and then the state will divide the money up based upon the population of seniors in provider service areas.”

Campbell did know how much Meals on Wheels’ share would be.

“I’d love to know,” she said. “We have heard the money is coming. The home delivery program is our greatest need.”

Carl Nudi, Herald Staff Writer, contributed to this report. Staff writer Donna Wright can be reached at 745-7049.

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