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W.Va. to cut child care, social program funding

June 22, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia plans to scale back child-care aid freezing enrollment and then ending it for some families while increasing costs for the rest - and also will cut $9.5 million in annual funding for other social services, including a summer nutrition program for schoolchildren, state officials announced Thursday.

The changes would drop an estimated 1,425 children from a program that helps their parents afford day care and other settings outside the home. The program served more than 24,000 children during the past budget year, at a cost of $54 million, according to figures provided by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Payment rates to day care centers and other providers won't change. The estimate reflects income levels of current enrollees. DHHR revisits income qualifications every six months.

The reasons behind the cuts vary. The state has exhausted a federal funding surplus that boosted the child-care aid, for instance. The grant meant to help the summer nutrition program expand to additional locations came from the now-ended federal stimulus. Other grants will end because they funded programs that don't appear to be working, such as one meant to encourage healthy marriages, officials said.

"We are now looking at what we can do to for the sustainability of these long-term programs," said DHHR spokesman John Law. "This is a first step for trying to get it under control."

The child-care aid program is supposed to help poor parents keep their jobs or find work including by attending school. West Virginia will stop enrolling new families on Aug. 1, and then end payments for families at or above 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

A family of four would lose aid, for example, if its annual income exceeded about $33,500. West Virginia had extended the program to include families making up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Melissa Colagrosso operates a care center in Fayette County. She predicts the changes will force people to quit their jobs and seek welfare-type assistance, particularly if they have infants. Colagrosso's facility is licensed for 101 children, and she said around 75 rely on aid from the state program.

"I know it sounds like a small cut, but a majority of our community qualifies for the subsidy and if they don't, they don't be able to work," Colagrosso said Thursday. "Our community will be hit dramatically."

Children exempt from these changes include those in foster care, receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families, under court-ordered care of the subject of a child protective service case. The state must continue to serve these families to receive the $110 million provided annually by the TANF program, Law said. The exhausted surplus reflected amounts from those annual funds left over from previous budget years, he said.

While provider payments will remain the same, families enrolled in the program will see their copayments more than double starting Aug. 1 from 5 percent to 12 percent of child care costs. The average weekly cost of day care for a 4-year-old in West Virginia is $111, according to figures from the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. The increase would increase that parent's weekly copayment from $5.58 to $13.38.

The tightened income eligibility standard would put West Virginia's program in line with neighboring Kentucky and Virginia, according to 2011 figures from the National Women's Law Center. Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania all set stricter limits, the figures show. The center's 2011 report on state child care assistance policies also found that West Virginia's copayments were lower, sometimes significantly so, than all five of its neighbors.

West Virginia's changes reflect a trend among state programs that helped prompt the 2011 report. It counted five states, including Ohio, that tightened income eligibility that year while two hiked copayments. Ohio was also among five states that reduced provider rates, and four including Maryland were threatened by growing waiting lists for their programs.

The cut West Virginia grants include $2.5 million for the Department of Education's summer nutrition program, and $5.5 million meant to subsidize employment for those seeking help through the state's regional workforce investment boards. The latter grant was also funded by temporary stimulus dollars.

The remaining grants include two to research agencies at West Virginia and West Virginia State universities. DHHR officials said the underlying programs, meant to strengthen two-parent families, showed "inconclusive results." A separate grant had funded a WVU program aimed at helping to direct people into vocational trades. Besides "not meeting expectations," that program duplicated other state programs, officials said.



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