Dollie Smith-Feldmeth remembers with gratitude the help she got from a government program that offsets the cost of child care.
"Back in 1999 I found myself going through a divorce with an associate's degree and two children to take care of and no idea about the cost of child care," she said.
She went to the Children and Family Resource Center, which at the time was in a cramped office in an old house beside the Hendersonville post office.
"I met with Amelia Cox and told her what my story was," Smith-Feldmeth said in an interview with HendersonvilleLightning.com. The resource center worker told her about options for child care. "And she said by the way we can help you with child care. I think I probably used the child care subsidies for 2 ½ years maybe."
She finished a degree and ended up in a career.
"I was able to get into banking and then investments and now I'm a certified financial planner with Dixon Hughes Goodman Wealth Advisors," she said. She recalls that her share of a $600 child care bill for two was $150 a month.
Now Smith-Feldmeth is chair of the agency that helped her 13 years ago, and she fears that women today that are in her shoes will no longer get help. Federal, state and local budget cuts have slashed support for the child care subsidy program. The cuts could mean that as many as 412 eligible children in the county would not be served — 200 currently on the program and 212 eligible and waiting.
The consequence for working mothers could be dire, Smith-Feldmeth said.
"One child in day care would take over 20 or 25 percent of people's paychecks," she said. "It's too hard to try to do that."
The funding cuts will hit hard in the budget year that starts July 1, child advocates and county Department of Social Services officials say. But already the agency has frozen enrollment for child care subsidies. The county's day care centers are bracing for the cuts, which will reduce the number of children they serve and could cost daycare workers their jobs.
Henderson County loses $633,350 for the budget year starting July 1, a 19.5 percent cut. That's the fifth most by the amount of money and ninth largest by percentage in the state, said Penny Summey, a program administrator with DSS. The new cut came on top of a reduction this year of $300,000 in state and federal money for daycare subsidies and child protective services. And the agency had absorbed the 7.5 percent across-the-board cut in spending the Board of Commissioners ordered a year ago for the current budget.
DSS directors and child care advocates in the mountains have been puzzling over the funding formula and how the state allocated $63 million in cuts across 100 counties over the past two years.
Henderson County took one of the biggest cuts, though it has 212 eligible children on a waiting list for assistance. Of 27 the counties that saw an increase in daycare subsidy funding, eight had no children on the waiting list.
Western North Carolina counties took cuts averaging 9 percent, compared to 6 percent for Coastal Plain counties and 1 percent for those in the Piedmont. State officials have explained that the state used 2010 census figures to devise the formula for the cuts.
DSS director Liston Smith has set meetings with child-care providers, and social workers are bracing for the job of telling people they won't receive the help.
"We don't know how we're going to select those that we're going to continue on the program and those that we're not," Summey said. "These are people who cannot work or go to school or do what they have to do without this assistance."
A single mom with an income of $30,337 a year would spend 22 percent of her income on child care based on Henderson County rates if she received no subsidy, a study by the state Child Care Services Association said.
The DSS and Children and Family Resource Center have appealed to area legislators, including state Sen. Tom Apodaca and Reps. Chuck McGrady and Trudi Walend either to restore the funding or force the state to reexamine the formula.
"What we're asking the state and the governor to do is to look at that formula and apply the cuts more fairly so they're serving children who are already waiting," Elisha Freeman, executive director of the Children and Family Resource Center.
Freeman said the cuts are likely to trigger a domino effect, potentially causing mothers of young children to quit work and costing jobs at licensed day care facilities.
"If there are not subsidies to help her pay for child care, that means she's a high school dropout," said Elisha Freeman, executive director of the Children and Family Resource Center. "In most cases, if she drops out, she's just going to be in a cycle of poverty and it's just going to keep on."
The child care subsidy program, she said, is one of the more effective programs to help single moms transition from high school to a job and potentially a career. Among the recipients, 70 percent work and12 percent are in school, GED and adolescent parenting programs. The rest are in developmental needs or protective services programs.
"I don't want anybody to get the perception that people are sitting at home," Freeman said. "It's just going to hit a lot of working families."
Smith-Feldmeth, one of the program's success stories, said she was stunned to hear that the program would be cut by a third.
"When I found out about these subsidy cuts I went to Elisha and asked are there not grants we can apply for?" she said. "I'm finding out in the non-profit world that's not always the case."
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