Thousands of Georgia children, many of whom may live in Hall County, could be turned away from child care funding because of restrictions that began in February.
The restrictions in the Childcare and Parent Services program, which helps low-income families afford child care, will affect new applicants, though there are exceptions made for some.
These new restrictions apply in counties that used all their funding in the past fiscal year, including Hall County, where 30 child care programs are certified to serve children receiving CAPS funding.
Hall County’s CAPS program was allocated $2.15 million in the past fiscal year, which runs July through June. It spent $2.35 million.
The program already had some eligibility restrictions in place, including income requirements and activity requirements such as parents being enrolled in school or working a certain number of hours.
With the new restrictions, funding is available only to those new applicants in preselected groups, including but not limited to children in state custody or Child Protective Services, children of parents who are younger than 18 and enrolled in school, children being raised by their grandparents, children with special needs and victims of disasters.
“At this point, as I understand it, CAPS is still available, but they’re only taking the most needy families,” said Shelia Missler, director of Joyland Day Care in Gainesville. “ ... And they are still sending some people to us. I just filled out paperwork for a lady who is under the understanding that she will get it.”
In 2013, approximately 55,000 Georgia children received funding from the Childcare and Parent Services program. As of Feb. 1, the new funding restrictions mean the number of children served must drop to 50,000.
“CAPS helps families access and afford quality child care by providing subsidies through the federal Child Care and Development Fund,” said Reg Griffin, chief communications officer for Bright from the Start, the office administering CAPS. “CCDF is a block grant, not an entitlement program, and funding is limited.”
The CAPS changes are because of several factors including federal regulations of the grant and a change of CAPS leadership.
The CAPS program was previously administered by the Department of Human Services, but three years ago it was moved to Bright from the Start with the Department of Early Care and Learning.
At the time of the switch, enrollment in the program was low, meaning there was plenty of funding. This allowed the program to serve more children in the years following — increasing from 43,000 to 55,000 statewide, until this fiscal year, when the excess officially ran out.
Griffin said it is important to note the changes will only affect new applicants for CAPS funding, with families currently receiving or recertifying for CAPS continuing to receive services if their recertification paperwork is filed correctly and on time.
“This is going to affect some of our parents, especially if they turn in their paperwork but it’s not documented correctly,” said Pam Forrester, director of Gainesville Academy child care center. “They could automatically lose their CAPS. I actually let my parents file their paperwork from my fax machine, so we can be sure it gets sent in.”
Forrester is also director of Oakwood Early Learning Center and Kids World Christian Child Care, and she said more than 130 Hall children between all three day care centers receive CAPS funding.
“These parents are parents striving to get their children the best quality child care they can get, and this helps them do that,” she said. “But if they take that away from them, these parents have nothing.”
Forrester said she agrees the program should have some restrictions.
“I don’t want to see them funding every Joe Schmo that walks by,” she said. “That’s not what I’m asking for, and I understand having stipulations and rules. I have no problem with that.”
Activity requirements for children to qualify for the funding include their parents attending vocational or technical school for a minimum 24 hours a week; being employed at least 24 hours a week; working and attending vocational or technical school a combined average 24 hours a week; or being a parent younger than 18, attending middle or high school full time.
Parents exclusively attending college to earn a four-year degree or higher are not eligible for the program, and many working parents, depending on their income level, do not qualify.
“Unfortunately, people still have to work and have to have child care,” Missler said. “Somehow or another, they manage to give money up because they have to work and have somebody watch their kids.”
Forrester said she wished deserving parents could get more help.
“I don’t want to see just everybody get it, but there are people out there who really need it and can’t get it,” she said. “It’s an amazing system, but it’s frustrating when it doesn’t work.”