After an outcry, the state vows to pay money owed day care providers
Erica Kilcoyne went to her mailbox this past weekend, expecting an $8,000 check from the state for her Easton day care center.
Like dozens of child-care providers across the state, Kilcoyne depends on the monthly payment, which covers children who attend her center and are enrolled in the state voucher program.
The voucher program offers low-income families financial aid for child care. Providers are reimbursed by the state at a reduced and delayed rate, typically two months later.
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Instead of getting the check on Friday for her June invoice, Kilcoyne received a letter saying not to expect one “possibly” until the end of August.
“Every week that I pay my teachers, I’m giving them money I hope I will be getting in two more months,” said Kilcoyne, of Brockton, who owns Cowlicks & Pigtails Childcare Center in Easton.
“Every day without this money is hell. What am I supposed to tell my landlord?” she asked.
After word of the payment delay spread among day-care providers over the weekend, the state responded.
“We needed to get the money out the door much more quickly, recognizing a lot of providers are counting on this,” Matt Veno, spokesman for the state Department of Early Education and Care, said Monday.
Veno said providers should now have the checks this Friday — or by Monday at latest.
The reimbursements, which cover families who earn up to 85 percent of the state median income, are distributed through certain regional agencies.
Brockton-based Home Health & Child Services Inc., which distributes the reimbursements for this region, posted a notice on its Web site and sent letters about the delay.
A separate letter sent to the regional agencies from the state, dated July 31, attributed the delay to “deficiencies in the account that supports voucher payments.”
The shortfall came from a cash-flow problem, not from budget cuts, the state spokesman said.
“We actually served more low-income families over the course of the year than we had projected, at least partially due to the downturn in the economy and the uptick in homeless families,” Veno said.
The state agency will cover the deficit with a surplus from another account and does not expect future delays or shortfalls, he said.
“This is a one-time, short-term reconciling of accounts that’s led to a few days delay,” Veno said. “(It) required some approval up the chain.”
David McKenney, finance director for Brockton Day Nursery, said he was waiting on a $66,000 check to cover about 90 children on vouchers.
But unlike some smaller centers — Brockton Day Nursery is one of the city’s biggest — he has a cushion.
“If we had to, we could get into investments short-term,” he said. “I’m going to be worried about it because we have to cover payroll and we have to cover medical (insurance).”
Meanwhile, others said they didn’t have enough voucher children enrolled to be dependent on the reimbursements.
“It’ll affect us, of course, because that’s part of our budgeting,” said Ramona Nichols, who owns Magic Touch Preschool Nursery in Bridgewater. “But it wouldn’t shut us down.”
But Maureen Sass, owner of the Children’s Express Learning Center in West Bridgewater, has a lot more at stake.
More than half of her 70 enrolled children are on vouchers, but after calling the state, Sass was reassured.
“Before you panic, you get all the information,” she said. “I was pretty impressed with the response I got and how they’re working ’round the clock to do what they need to do.”
Jessica Scarpati can be reached at email@example.com.