A controversial element of the most recent New Hanover County budget just became much more controversial.
You may remember County Commissioner Woody White’s protest of county money being used to fund day care for residents who cannot afford it for their children. Commissioner Woody White said childcare subsidies are already available through the state and federal government.
“What our county manager is proposing is that we also get in that business as a county government,” White said when this came up for debate at a budget workshop in May. “And I've not seen the data that would justify local government extending those types of benefits.”
Despite White’s protest, some of the other commissioners supported the idea, and the county ultimately set aside $400,000 in its budget this year for childcare subsidies. But WECT has learned the money has not yet been spent, because the Department of Social Services is waiting for guidance from the county on who would qualify for those benefits.
According to the minutes from the Board of Social Services meeting last month, undocumented residents could qualify for these child care subsidies being funded with county tax money.
“Ms. Pinder (New Hanover County’s Deputy County Manager) noted the stipulation that the parents must be documented was removed,” the minutes read. DSS officials tell us that the state requires one parent or child be a US citizen or legal resident to qualify for state child care subsidies.
Since the $400,000 set aside by the county is not state money, different criteria could apply. DSS officials were unable to elaborate on who made the decision to remove the requirement that these dollars only be used for legal residents, or when that decision was made.
We reached out to New Hanover County Commissioner and DSS Board Chair Jonathan Barfield to find out more.
"Anyone born in the US is eligible for services," Barfield said. "If the child is born here they qualify for services per federal laws, however if the parents are not legally documented they do not qualify for any services. We wanted our wording to be consistent with the federal guidelines."
The meeting minutes note that 438 children are on the wait list for the child care subsidy. DSS officials say that the average subsidy is about $400 per child per month.
The county DSS board meets again Tuesday and we hope to learn more details on this stipulation being removed, and what other criteria the county has set for who will be eligible for these subsidies.
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