Lawmakers puzzle over how to work child-care fund

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Legislators all agree so far that asking constituents to donate extra dollars toward a child care fund is a good idea, but they are still stumped about how to implement the contribution program.
The Senate Families, Mental Health and Human Services Committee is considering two bills passed by the House last May.
The bills would create the “Child Care Assistance Fund” to assist eligible families with child day-care needs and to require the secretary of state to create a program allowing a vehicle registrant to donate between $1 and $5 to the fund.
Andrea Bonevelle spoke on behalf of Rep. Barbara Vander Veen, R-Allendale, the bills’ sponsor.
“There are families who do not qualify for financial assistance from the Family Independence Agency that need child-care funding,” she said. “This fund will enable those low-income families to go to work because they will have child-care support.”
Nancy Secore, manager of the Head Start program at Eight CAP, in Greenville, supports the bills also.
“Low-income families that must work really need child-care assistance,” Secore said. “We have many single moms that must work and they need to know that their kids are in good care.”
Secore said having quality child-care should not be based on what the family can afford.
“Some mothers can only pay $1 per hour for childcare,” she said. “If the quality of service is only determined by the dollar amountÑthat is dangerous.”
Secore estimated the expense for one child in day-care is a minimum of $5,000 per year. “It can get expensive depending on the number of children,” she said. “Some people just opt for family childcare. Sometimes is easier and less expensive to have family members care for children instead of sending them to a center.”
he House passed the bills with unanimous votes and the Senate committee seems to favor it also.
Sen. Joel Gougeon, R-Bay City, supports the bills.
“I think it’s a noble idea and I support it,” he said. “As the family progresses off FIA assistance, there would be an element of support still in place to assist them.”
While the idea is liked by most, the Department of State made it clear that it didn’t.
“This is not legislation we support,” said Elizabeth Boyd, communications representative for the department.
“This program will cost the department between $100,000 and $3.5 million, depending on the scope of the project.”
Boyd said the department’s customer interaction process is very rigid and the department can not afford to tamper with it.
“If we are directed to ask all of our customers for a donation, that will have a impact on our quality of service,” Boyd said. “We have millions of customers each year and our branches are always full. It’s important that we get people in and out as fast as possible.”
Gougeon was not convinced that the Department of State couldn’t handle the program.
“If we can ask someone to buy a lotto ticket every time they approach a store counter, how much more work will it be for the department to ask someone to donate money for a good cause?”
He also suggested other options.
“Why not set up a pilot Internet program?”
Gougeon suggested that registrants should have the options of donating online and by mail — not just at the branch offices. He also encouraged the department to look at the situation as an opportunity not a problem.
“Instead of saying ‘No, don’t hang us for this — you’re creating more work.’ The Department of State should view this as an opportunity to help.”
Committee Chair Beverly Hammerstrom, R-Temperance, suggested the committee “go back to the drawing board” to develop a plan to implement the bills.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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