State Politics

Obama: $115M for Florida child care

MANATEE — Even though President Barack Obama’s office announced $115 million targeted for child care in Florida, a local official is concerned those funds will go to patch other state cuts or only temporarily place children in day care.

“We’re just worried the $115 million will be moved from us in some way to make up for holes in the budget,” said Paul Sharff, executive director of Early Learning Coalition in Manatee County.

He pointed out state legislators are still vacillating on funding for programs and agencies.

The funding, announced Thursday as a part of the Recovery Act for Child Care and Development Fund, is aimed at supporting child care services for more families whose children require care while they are working, job hunting or going to school.

State Rep. Darryl E. Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said there are conditions to using stimulus dollars at the state level.

“It is my understanding there are sufficient strings attached to this money so that its use is truly to supplement and not substitute,” he said. “In fact one of the conditions I’m thinking of, unless a waiver is granted by the federal government, education dollars must be at the 2006 level in order to accept the funding coming down. Local government, meaning the state level, is discouraged from cutting and filling holes with stimulus dollars.”

In Manatee County, there are about 500 children on a waiting list for the Early Learning Coalition, a school readiness program that provides day care for working families.

However, unless that funding is recurring, Sharff said he fears children accepted into the program would have to leave if funding dries up.

“There wouldn’t be the funding to continue on,” said Sharff, noting the funds must be used by January 2011.

The Obama Administration believes child care is needed to help working families in a struggling economy.

“Parents are worried about finding a job or keeping the job they have and they shouldn’t have to worry about affording quality child care,” said Vice President Biden in a released statement. “Safe, affordable, high-quality child care gives working parents the peace of mind they need to be stable, dependable employees.”

Instead, Sharff said directors across the state would like to see the funding used for a new computer operating system. The system in place now is about 20 years old, he said.

“The thinking was that (the funding) should be put in infrastructure,” Sharff said.

A new system would be more efficient and allow workers to increase the work load, he said.

“It would allow us to gather information from outside sources and cut down on referral errors,” Sharff said.

Rouson said the dollars should go to placing children in day care.

“It’s very short sighted to invest in computers today when you can invest in lives and opportunities for work. Those who can get back in the workplace a year from now have the funds so they don’t have to accept stimulus funds for child care,” he said.

“The idea for stimulus funds is to do just that, to stimulate people getting into the workplace, creating jobs and helping the economy flow.”

In July, the wait list for the school readiness program had about 1,500. That number has since dropped by about 1,000.

“There will always be a wait list,” Sharff said. “What we are seeing now are people who needed child care for working, are now out of work. It’s a sad situation.”

Every six months, the coalition checks with parents to make sure they are still working and qualify for their children to be enrolled in childcare.

However, children who are considered at-risk, live in a foster home or are abused also qualify.

The number of children in the latter category is going up, Sharff said.

“People are not needing childcare because they are out of work, but now we are seeing more abused children,” he said.

The breakdown of the funding Florida will receive is $105,331,254 to support child care for working families, according to a released statement.

The remaining funds allocated for Florida — $10,461,206 — would go towards vaccines and grants available to ensure more people receive inoculations they need, according to the release.