NHC Commissioners limit child care subsidies to legal residents

NHC Commissioners limit child care subsidies to legal residents
DSS agrees to accept county stipulations under threat of losing funding. (Source: WECT)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - New Hanover County Commissioners voted to set several limitations on the way a child care subsidy program will be administered using county taxpayer money, including one that requires the parents of children to be legal residents, able to work lawfully in the United States. However, there is no requirement that the parent be a US Citizen to receive the subsidy.

In this year's budget, commissioners approved spending up to $448,000 on a child care subsidy credit. To date, none of that money has been spent, and Commissioner Woody White proposed a motion Monday to rescind the county subsidy entirely. His motion failed in a 3-2 vote, with White and Commissioner Skip Watkins voting in the minority.

"It's welfare expansion," White explained of the reason he voted to withdraw money for the subsidy. "We've got to take care of our citizens first. The ones that are paying taxes every single day. Paying sales taxes, working hard to pay their property taxes. We shouldn't be expanding welfare. Nobody has applied for this program, not one dollars been spent. And here we are, our bureaucratic county government is walking around the sidewalks, looking for people to give this money to. It's wrong."

WECT recently uncovered - unbeknownst to most county commissioners - that the Board for the Department of Social Services had decided to follow state and federal guidelines for who is eligible for childcare subsidies. Under those guidelines, benefits are able to be extended to children born in the United States to undocumented residents.

Commissioners White and Watkins, along with Commissioner Rob Zapple, expressed concern about who could potentially qualify for the county subsidies. Monday, County Manager Chris Coudriet explained the original intent of the county child care subsidy program was to help those who are in New Hanover County legally, but unemployed or underemployed, pay for child care in an effort to get back to work or take a higher paying job.

After the vote to rescind the subsidy money failed, commissioners voted on a motion Zapple proposed to put several limitations for those applying for county funding, including the following:

-offering the subsidy to those who are unemployed or underemployed, with the stipulation they enter the workforce, increase their hours or take a higher paying job.
-be able to work lawfully in the United States.
-consistent with Smart Start funding, enroll their child in a 3 star or higher rated facility.
-seek higher education or a GED.

Commission Chairman Beth Dawson, who went on the record that she did not support county subsidies going to people who are not here legally, also asked that a time frame and income limit be considered when offering this subsidy. That wording was added to the motion, which passed 3-2.

"I feel comfortable, and I think the citizens out there should feel comfortable that their money is being safeguarded by the action we took tonight," Zapple said after the vote.

Once again, White and Watkins voted in the minority.

"I think you can hear from the questioning in there, that our staff is not prepared to administer this money appropriately. They delegated it to DSS, a liberal group that was obviously going to spend money in ways that they wanted to," White said about why he voted no to the county subsidies, even with the new stipulations.

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