Parents, day-care providers worry after shutdown strips funding
SALISBURY — April Palmateer doesn’t know where she’s going to keep her kids on Nov. 1.
But if the federal government shutdown continues, it likely won’t be Noah’s Playloft Pre-School.
Palmateer stopped at the South Link Avenue day care Thursday afternoon to pick up Michelle, 4, and 2-year-old Michael. She’s one of the hundreds of Rowan County parents who are losing federal subsidies that help struggling families afford child-care services.
And even though Rowan County has stepped in to fill the funding void through the end of this month, officials say the county can’t afford to foot the bill after that.
Palmateer, the single mother of two, said she found out about the suspended vouchers when she visited the county social services department on Tuesday.
“Where am I going to send my kids when I go to work?” Palmateer asked. “I have my dad but he’s disabled — so it’s hard for him to watch my kids. At least having the day care and the day care help, I have somewhere for my kids to come so I know that they’re safe and they’re here when I come home from work.”
County Social Services Director Donna Fayko said letters are being mailed to more than 500 families in Rowan County who could lose their child care services due to the shutdown.
“Basically, today, letters are going out to 522 families that their child-care services are being suspended unless the federal government shutdown is resolved,” Fayko said.
Fayko said services and staff salaries, including adult and child protective services, day care staff and Work First staff are among those who will see reductions or suspended programs due to the shutdown.
Palmateer works as a personal care assistant at a local assisted living facility and counts on Noah’s Playloft.
“I’m going to have to figure out something because without that help, I’m not going to be able to afford to send them here,” she said. “Day care is not cheap and I’m going to need some sort of help to send them here.”
Robin M. Kluttz-Ellison, owner and operator of the pre-school, said about 95 percent of the families she works with are on federal subsidies.
Noah’s Playloft is licensed to keep nearly 100 children and she worries about the situations some families will be in if they can’t afford to send them to the pre-school.
“We have first and second shifts. We’re the only five-star center that has a second shift here in Rowan County, and it’s a scary thing,” she said. “You’re going to have kids watching kids, and that’s not safe.”
Kluttz-Ellison also criticized officials’ decision to mail the notices to parents instead of using a quicker medium.
She said she set up a phone at the business to allow parents to contact lawmakers about the impending suspension. She’s also encouraging parents to email legislators.
“There are a lot of people upset,” Kluttz-Ellison said. “I’m hoping we can keep on stirring that pot and let them know how we’re being affected. Maybe that’ll move things along.”
Kluttz-Ellison said she was in the process of refinancing her home when she got wind of the shutdown’s impact. Now, she said, she needs every penny to go into her business.
“I just don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’ve got everything in my whole life put on pause.”
After a presentation from Fayko during Monday’s Rowan County commissioners meeting, the board voted to pay about $607,000 out of the county’s fund balance to keep those programs going through Oct. 31.
But the funds aren’t guaranteed to be repaid when the shutdown ends, and the funding sparked a brief discussion among commissioners over how to handle the fiscal impasse.
Commissioners voted unanimously to fund the services. “I don’t have a problem with funding it,” Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said. “My thing is, I just want everybody to understand that this is not a loan. ... This is a gamble — for lack of better terms.
“We’re going to put that money out to do what we need to for our citizens, but there is no guarantee that that money will come back,” Pierce told the board.
As of Nov. 1, the county would have to pay roughly $1.5 million per month to keep the services going, Fayko estimated. When asked by board members about the feasibility Monday, County Finance Director Leslie Heidrick said the county can’t afford to continue funding the programs after October.
“Could we do $600,000? Yes,” Heidrick said. “We could do that. Can we sustain $1.5 million month after month? No, absolutely not.”
Chairman Jim Sides said he is typically opposed to paying for services the federal government fails to fund, but he said the child-care services need to be continued.
Sides said some politicians have said furloughed workers need to be compensated for the time off. He argued that those affected by suspended programs are the heaviest hit victims of the shutdown.
“I would venture to say those who were furloughed could do without a week’s pay a lot easier than these people could do without a week’s food stamps or Medicaid or even the child-care assistance,” Sides said.
County leaders scheduled a special meeting Oct. 18 to reconsider the DSS services.
“We would have to look to see what was available because we don’t know,” Fayko said. “You’d have to evaluate what was still available through federal and state funding and what services could still be provided, to what degree those services could be provided, whether you need to furlough staff or discontinue service.”
Fayko said she was “very pleased” with the county’s decision to fund the services, adding that she’s hopeful the shutdown will end soon.
“It would truly be a crisis situation if this federal shutdown is not resolved next week,” she said, “I remain optimistic that our leaders are going to do the right thing and resolve this crisis.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.