County view: The poor seem most affected
Hours before Minnesota’s possible state government shutdown, Crow Wing County officials detailed the impact of that potential closure on related Crow Wing County programs.
County Administrator Tim Houle and Commissioner Doug Houge identified what county programs would be affected based on this week’s ruling by Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin.
The Child Care Assistance Program that makes payments to day care providers on a sliding fee scale is one state program that will end if there’s a shutdown. However, Houle said payments for the Minnesota Family Investment Program would continue.
For Kathy Stevens of rural Brainerd the lack of Child Care Assistance Program payments means her day care business may have to temporarily absorb those costs. In the summer time she said she averages between 10 to 14 children at her licensed daycare.
“That really affects your bottom line,” Stevens said. “It would be different if they could tell us it (the payments) would be retroactive.”
She pointed out that her Nokay Lake Road day care’s operating expenses, insurance costs and house payments don’t decrease along with the state funding. Stevens estimated she couldn’t operate without the state funding
“I would like to make sure we are included in the budget to make the payment’s retroactive,” she said. “They need to make sure they include us in that. I cannot understand how we cannot be considered critical or essential when we care for the children of the work force.”
Houle and Houge said it was the working poor who seemed to be most affected by the state shutdown. Houle said it still wasn’t clear whether child support payments would continue to be made. He cited the theoretical example of a divorced mom with two kids who was counting on child support payments to keep herself off public assistance.
“The goal of public assistance programs is not to keep them on public assistance but to move them to stability,” Houle said.
If a state shutdown lasted two or three weeks Houle said the county would probably have to re-evaluate its strategy, particularly if the county has eaten up its local match on specific programs by that point.
The county officials said there would be no licensing of any new child care, group home or publicly licensed residential facilities during the shutdown. There would be no welfare fraud investigations. Houge and Houle said they were still waiting for information regarding certain public health grants.
They said the Women Infant Children health program would not be suspended.
The two county officials didn’t enter into the political debate behind the government shutdown. Houge, vice chair of the county board, said he was hoping for a quick resolution of a possible shutdown.
“The sooner the better,” Houge said.
“We don’t have any interest in this debate,” Houle said. “We want them to work together and come to an agreement.”
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.