CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Child-care advocates in West Virginia are worried that state officials may cut subsidies for child care to working families. State officials say no decisions about such cuts have been made.
Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, said she has heard from various sources that the state Department of Health and Human Resources is considering reducing the eligibility for child-care subsidies from 150 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent of the poverty level.
Under the current rules, a family of four with an income of $33,075 or more is eligible for the child-care subsidies. If the limits were reduced to 100 percent, a family of four could not receive the benefits if they earned more than $23,050.
Such cuts would end child-care support for about 4,000 families and 7,000 children, according to Hale.
Amy Shuler Goodwin, director of communications for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said no decisions about the cuts have been made.
"Obviously, there are huge holes in the Medicaid budget," Goodwin said. "There have been no decisions made on any cuts. We care deeply about our working families and their ability to work and take care of their families."
DHHR spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman said no cuts to child-care subsidies have been made, and said she did not know of any proposed cuts.
Hale said any such cuts would hurt parents who are trying to work, even though they have young children.
"The lifeblood of a family is to be able to work and earn money and have child care for it while they're gone," Hale said. "Public investment in small children pays a higher return than any other dividend ... it's a no-brainer but nobody seems to get it."
Hale said if the cuts happen, parents could be forced to quit their jobs or switch to inferior child-care providers.
"There's a remote possibility that children would be left alone," she said. "That's happened before."
Hale has written letters opposing the cuts to DHHR Secretary Michael Lewis, Tomblin and the state's finance and health legislative leadership. She's encouraging her West Virginia Kids County board members to do the same.
"We're trying what we think is a low-key approach," Hale said. "We kept hearing these rumors for a couple weeks ... I don't know what we'll do if they make the cuts but we'll make a lot of noise, that's for sure."
Jeanette Barker, president of West Virginia Childcare Centers United, said she's also heard about the cuts, but hasn't been able to get the information confirmed.
"I haven't been able to get it confirmed," Barker said.
Barker has heard that child-care subsidy rates would go from a monthly contract to a daily rate.
Currently, if a parent has a contract with a day-care facility and the child is absent a day, the facility still gets paid. If the rumored cuts were made, the facility would only get payments for the days the child goes to the center, Barker said.
"[That will] cause a lot of centers to close because they still have to pay their staff," she said.
Barker said she has a meeting with Tomblin's office Friday and with Lewis next month to discuss the rumored cuts.
Barker estimates that the cuts would mean a 40 percent loss of income to child-care facilities and affect thousands of families. And that's only the beginning, she said.
"If [families] can't work, they have to go back on the system for full benefits -- which is more costly than just helping them with child care," she said.
Reach Lori Kersey at email@example.com or 304-348-1240.