Motherless solutions

Post-welfare moms forced to work odd hours to keep subsidies


Kim O' Brien and her two children, Kody, 8, and Hunner Wilson, 6, at right, pose together. O'Brien is transitioning off welfare and is having trouble receiving child-care subsidies because of a lack of funding in social programs.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 11:51 p.m.
Family advocates say about two dozen parents transitioning from welfare to work are scrambling for a baby sitter or simply leaving their children at home because of funding shortages in Alachua County's child-care subsidy program.
Budget constraints and fears that the program would be overcrowded prompted the Alachua County School Readiness Coalition to create new rules in November that exclude children older than 5 from child-care subsidy programs, unless their parents work during odd hours - often at night.
The program, however, still will accept children on welfare or those who are considered at-risk. Parents with children already in the program will be able to still receive the subsidies.
The new restrictions on child care leave few options available to families. The Alachua County School Board offers after-school discounted programs for children older than 5 at $19 a week. Many programs, however, are filled, and family advocates say parents are forced to turn to costly private providers, which in some cases charge $90 a week for a single child.
Kim O'Brien, a 31-year-old mother, said the new policy puts her in a terrible bind. Last week, O'Brien began a new night job at Super 8 Motel for $7 an hour so she could become eligible for child-care subsidies.
But because she now works at night, she said she feels guilty when she misses out on school plays, PTA meetings or cannot help her sons do homework.
"It's a Catch-22," she said. If she works nights, she can qualify for money to pay for a baby sitter. But she added, "That makes me not able to have a life with my children."
If she works days, she doesn't qualify for money to pay for a baby sitter and has to leave her kids home alone after school.
Welfare advocates say the policy change discourages parents from working and magnifies the problems of children in poverty-stricken households.
"My big frustration is that when people are on welfare there's money to pay for them, but what has occurred - immediately when they are off welfare - is there's no money to pay for subsidized child care," said Marsha Mott, associate director of the Alachua Career Center.
Mott estimates that 20 other parents like O'Brien are affected by the change, and while it may sound like a small number, if each of them has two or three kids, it means as many as 60 youngsters are home alone every day.
Mott, along with other coalition members, are meeting with members of the Alachua County School Board and the Community Action Network to find additional funding sources that would allow child-care subsidies for more children. Federal grants provide $10.5 million to subsidize about 3,000 children, but another 400 are still on the waiting list for services.
"We just don't have any more funding. We are maxed out," said Vicky Stark, the administrative coordinator for the Alachua County Childcare Readiness Coalition's Board. Stark said the coalition implemented the new policy so that children now in the program would not be forced out.
O'Brien has been on and off welfare three times. She had hoped the Welfare Transitions Program, which included a six-week job skills course, would improve her quality of life. Instead, she said, she continues to struggle.
She laments that her children have "no mother" because they are in school in the day and she works at night
Meredith Mandell can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or mandelm@gvillesun.com.

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