Commissioners respond to citizens on child care subsidies for children of undocumented residents

Commissioners respond to citizens on child care subsidies for children of undocumented residents
DSS agrees to accept county stipulations under threat of losing funding. (Source: WECT)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A discussion over whether families of undocumented residents will be eligible to receive a county subsidy for child care has appeared to spark interest in New Hanover County, according to emails made available to the public at the government building.

Last week, the board for the Department of Social Services clarified that children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants would be eligible for the county subsidy, but their parents would not be eligible for the benefit.  The board matched state and federal guidelines on the subject.

In the current budget, county commissioners voted last summer to add $448,000 to help subsidize child care for working families in New Hanover County. Commissioners Woody White and Skip Watkins voted against that budget, which passed 3-2. To date, none of that money has been spent.

Commissioner White has asked that a discussion on this topic take place during an upcoming commissioner meeting. The county spokesperson indicates this item will be discussed during the meeting on March 7th.

However, constituents have been debating the issue with commissioners over the last several days.

Commissioner Watkins wrote:

Thank you for letting us know your position. I agree with you and I will do everything in my power to correct this. Though I voted against the expenditure originally I had to accept the majority vote. It was and still is my understanding that this was intended to help those that are unemployed or underemployed. That employment status would require legal residency. If DSS is not willing to follow the intent of the funding I will call for the appropriation to be withdrawn.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield represents commissioners on the DSS Board. He explained the board's decision.

It is my understanding that as it relates to people that are here illegally they would not qualify for DSS funds, however per Federal guidelines if a child is born in the US they are considered a US citizen, by being born in the US. Any guidelines we follow will flow with federal and state laws.

Commissioner Rob Zapple, who voted in favor of the budget last year, indicated through email that he does not support the use of the child care money in this regard.

One of the goals of the New Hanover County Commissioners is to promote new business by helping to build a framework for new job growth throughout the county. This would include encouraging the unemployed, and under employed portions of our population, that are able to work, to find and keep jobs – which in turn takes pressure off of our social services and creates more tax paying, productive citizens for our community.
A proposal to extend supplemental funding for the Department of Social Services' (DSS) Child Care Subsidy program was approved by the NHC Commissioners in the 2015-16 county budget. The clear intent of the Commissioners was to provide a modest child care subsidy for those families, or, single parents that are seeking legal employment, or, additional employment but cannot enter the workforce because they are unable to afford safe, reliable child care for their children. The DSS guidelines, that are set by the state and federal governments, do not match up with the Commissioners preferences for the use of this supplemental funding – none of which has been spent as of this date. This is unfortunate because the need for this kind of support for legal citizens in our community is clear. However, I cannot support the use of county taxpayer dollars for this program as long as it has the potential to benefit persons that are in New Hanover County illegally. I am actively working with our County Manager, staff and other Commissioners to find an appropriate resolution to this situation that will safeguard these funds for the legitimate residents and taxpayers of our county.

Commission Chairman Beth Dawson did not appear to indicate a position on the issue in her responses, but instead questioned the veracity of the report.

I do believe the citizens of NHC - and you- do their fact checks, and hope you will wait to hear the correct reports from the board of DSS. WECT does not have a good reputation of accurate reporting. In fact--ZERO NHC dollars have been spent from this allocated budget item to get folks back to work, to encourage job creation, and get folks off of the DSS programs as they become productive citizens. 
Please wait to get the correct information about this when we get the report.

County Manager Chris Coudriet was not available to speak with on this issue last week, according to a spokeswoman for the county, but did explain it to commissioners via email. Coudriet stated that "what is true for state and federal dollars is the citizenship or legal status of the parents of a child is not relevant in the decision making for subsidy if that child is a citizen. The board of social services, as I understand it, prefers to administer the county subsidy consistent with state and federal rules." Coudriet did indicate the initial intent was that the ability to "work lawfully" would have influenced whether county dollars would be used or not.

The DSS board said last week that 3.6 million dollars of an allotted 3.7 million federal and local Smart Start dollars have been spent so far on child care assistance.

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