CARE PAY SCARE COULD BECOME CITYWIDE MESS

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On Staten Island, the city welfare department’s change to a new child care payment system last fall wreaked havoc on some of the borough’s day care providers and babysitters, causing bureaucratic snags and payment delays that in some cases have yet to be resolved. Now, advocates fear that those problems will multiply catastrophically as the new system is phased in citywide during the next year.

On Staten Island, where only about 1,000 families rely on these checks, the transition was rough. Felicia Stradford of Baby Boomers Academy says that after the change, she was owed back payments for months. Those old charges have now finally been paid, but she reports that she still must call the Human Resources Administration every month to keep the checks coming–and so far, they have always come late.

“They’ve been very nice, they’ve been more than accommodating, but I just can’t bear the headache,” Stradford said. “I can’t wait to pay my rent or employees.” Stradford, who has 30 day care clients, said she can’t afford to take on any more parents who get day care subsidies through HRA.

Citywide, the city welfare department pays for day care for roughly 38,000 poor families citywide, in order to help parents on welfare look for and keep jobs. HRA did not respond to repeated calls for comment, but agency reps testified at a City Council hearing on the subject last week that it believes these problems to be isolated and temporary.

Critics applaud the city’s efforts to update and streamline the payment process but point out that erratic and delayed child care payments make it very difficult for parents on welfare to look for or keep jobs. “Child care payments are really important,” said David Ehrenberg, an attorney at South Brooklyn Legal Services who has followed the system changeover. If the payments don’t come on time, he said, “they either lose their job and have to go back on public assistance, or get sanctioned. It can be a big nightmare.”

“This whole workfare thing is gonna fail,” agrees Stradford. “[The city] is telling these women–if you don’t go to work, we won’t pay for child care. But if the child care providers aren’t paid, these women can’t go to work.”

The new system was adopted in Queens in January, and a few early reports suggest that similar problems may crop up at the end of this month, when providers should be getting their first checks.

When Eileen Naughton, the assistant director of Nuestros Ninos day care in Brooklyn, journeyed to a Queens welfare center in early January to help a client get day care payments, she found that the staff did have the new computer systems, but none had yet been trained to input paperwork or payment information. In addition, a quick survey of women waiting in the Long Island City welfare center last Friday revealed that at least some of them had not yet received any of the paperwork necessary to get their day care providers paid under the new system.