Childcare providers report problems getting state funds, afterschool programs won’t qualify

CLOSE

Some childcare programs that expected to receive state funding are finding out a month later the money may not be coming. Providers who have qualified say payments have been erratic.

Due to the stay at home order, children are staying home, so families are not using their spot at childcare centers. Through the Stabilization Program, federal funds from the CARES Act offer providers 50% of a child’s tuition for the unused spot, while parents contribute the other 50% — or less, when agreed upon with the provider.

Care providers who received an email from the state about participating in the program believed school-aged children and afterschool programs were included, and they told their families they could pay less.

Now, the state is clarifying that tuition for school-aged children doesn’t qualify. Without the funds to make up the difference, providers are having to make difficult choices about whether to charge parents more for a service they are not receiving or bear financial strain which could put them out of business. 

Stabilization program

Before the state began allocating CARES Act funds for childcare, parents were asked to voluntarily pay 100% of their child’s tuition while not using the service. The state funds provide a way to lessen the burden on families while helping keep providers’ lights on.

More: Vermont childcare centers critical to economy post-pandemic: How they maintain readiness

Vermont officials have said they were the first state to offer this assistance.

Investing in childcare during the pandemic positions the state’s economy to bounce back more quickly, state officials concluded.

“If you agree to continue paying your staff, we have a way forward to help you do that financially,” Steven Berbeco, of the state’s Child Development Division said in reference to childcare providers. “We want to make sure that childcare is ready to reopen for Vermont on the other side of this crisis.” 

School-aged children’s spots don’t qualify

Tina Tuttle is a registered home provider in St. Albans City, and like many home centers, hers provides daily care from birth through five years, and for school-aged children who need childcare after school or during school breaks.

The letter Tuttle received from the state said the following: “During the closure period, the State will pay 50% of tuition for all private pay families, regardless of whether or not they utilize the service.” She thought the benefits applied to all in her care. The state encouraged her to send a letter to families, which she did, asking them to pay 50%.

None of the documents broke out school-aged children as not qualifying.

Since the program went into effect April 6, Tuttle expected to receive $700 for all of her non-essential school-aged children. By the end of May, it would be $1400. Tuttle is a single parent, and the childcare business is her only source of income. The $1400 loss is significant.

Tuttle asked her parents for 50%, but one parent, Jerika Many, couldn’t make payments because she was laid off from her respite personal care services job as a result of the stay at home order. The state provided a solution in a Frequently Asked Questions document sent to Tuttle: “After April 5th if a family chooses to unenroll will this program cover 100% of tuition? Yes, this program will cover 100% of the tuition up to a weekly maximum of $360.”

Tuttle and Many decided to unenroll Many’s daughter, a seven-year-old,  and let the State pay her entire tuition. Meanwhile the daughter was put on Tuttle’s waitlist, per state requirements. 

A month later, Tuttle found out Many’s daughter doesn’t qualify for any state funds. It puts the pair in a complicated position — Tuttle needs that spot paid for so she can take care of her own family, and Many, also a single mom, needs childcare when her job resumes.

“If the money is not coming from me, and not coming from the state, is my daughter going to lose her place?” Many asked. It was difficult for her, she said, to find childcare in Franklin County in the first place.

Tuttle could go back to parents and ask them to pay 100% for a service they’re not getting, but she doesn’t feel right asking that of them now.

She says she may have made different decisions in the beginning, if the state had been more clear. She may even have had more money coming in.

‘Where is the money that was promised?’

Tuttle found out some of her children wouldn’t qualify for funds through a private Facebook group for childcare providers. Others said they had received phone calls from the state or had “red flags” on their invoices for asking for funds for non-essential school-aged children.

Even for children who did qualify, Tuttle hadn’t received payments for the past three weeks, nor had she received any communication from the state. She had sent letters to officials, but hadn’t heard back and assumed payment was held up because she submitted school-age children on her invoices. 

“My mortgage is coming up next week and I can’t pay them,” Tuttle said.

More: Gov. Scott orders closure of child care programs except to serve ‘essential’ workers

Non-payment is causing a lot of anxiety. “Where is the money that was promised us? I filled out three invoices and so far got one check.” Karen Hebert, a Fairfax registered home provider of more than 30 years said. They keep saying “we are in this together,” but it doesn’t feel like it.

Carolyn Ingerson said she just received money in her account without any explanation, three weeks and two invoices later. “I don’t know what it’s for, no email, the numbers don’t match, no breakdown.” 

Tuttle had heard some providers were getting large sums of money and told it would be reconciled with later payments, while she and others were getting nothing. “Everyone’s books are incorrect. It’s a mess,” she said. 

State apologizes, works to problem-solve

Steven Berbeco, Deputy Commissioner of the state’s Child Development Division, said he’s heard these concerns from providers, and the state is working to make the Stabilization Program better for them and for Vermont families.

He confirmed the state funds are for birth through five-year-old children and essential workers’ school-aged children, not for regular school-aged children. 

Afterschool services are under the purview of the Agency of Education, not the Child Development Division (CDD), which accounts for some of the confusion. When schools closed, those programs transitioned to the CDD, but distribution of funds were calculated based on original numbers for the CDD. 

In normal circumstances, childcare stakeholder input would help guide decisions, he said. But they were trying to act quickly. “As a result, we didn’t take all the steps we needed to take. I apologize for that.”

Since then, he has met with afterschool directors to solve the problem. “We have plans in motion, but the details haven’t been finalized yet. We hope to have more concrete information in the coming weeks.”

More: Coronavirus in Vermont: How it’s impacting children and schools

He said his explanations were not an excuse but a reason why they happened and, “we are working really hard to do right by afterschool programs.”

For those providers who got flagged on their invoices and haven’t received payment, Berbeco said, they are calling them one-by-one, and invoices are still being processed. 

Because it is a new program and they wanted to get funds to providers as quickly as possible, the Bright Futures payment system that providers are accustomed to is not in use. It took a couple weeks to put a new system together. 

Berbeco said they have been making larger lump sum payments to get money to providers more rapidly and the money will be reconciled with future invoices. 

While writing this article, Karen Hebert, the Fairfax provider, received a call from Bryan O’Connor in the Commissioner’s office. “He was very helpful, very understanding, explained things,” she said. She appreciated his apology, and in the end was thankful to receive clear information and her check.

More Vermont coronavirus updates

Contact April Barton at abarton@freepressmedia.com or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.

All coverage of the coronavirus is being provided for free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Free Press.

Read or Share this story: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2020/05/01/childcare-centers-report-problems-getting-state-funds-cares-act-stabilization-program/3048029001/