The Craven County Board of Commissioners will continue paying — for now — for federal day-care subsidies and some federally funded, county-operated safety net programs.
Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to continue to underwrite day-care subsidies with the expectation of being reimbursed once the federal government shutdown has ended.
Little has changed about the federal shutdown since the county board first considered its impact last week. But as the clock ticks, so does the county’s investment and specific information on which services the county doesn’t feel like it can do without.
The Women with Infants and Children program (WIC) operated by the Craven County Health Department presently appears to have continued funding from the state through Oct. 31. But Theresa Ellen, assistant health director, said, “If the shutdown continues after Oct. 31, we will have an issue.”
She said there appears to be funds to transfer within the department budget to continue operating the $236,000, temporarily suspended Healthy Children program until reimbursement arrives.
But some of the programs operated by the Craven County Department of Social Services are not as easily sustainable.
“These programs affect some of the youngest people and oldest people who are unable to take care of themselves,” said Kent Flowers, social services director. “I personally don’t see how we can justify, have any right to deny protection to the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Social Services programs in addition to the day-care subsidy, which costs less than originally thought now that school is back in session, include Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, Foster Care and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
The day-care subsidy cost in Craven County is now figured at about $85,000 a week, with the other programs increasing the total Craven County cost to about $128,000 a week.
Subsidies go to about 80 child care centers or homes for more about 900 children — about 85 percent for offspring of working parents, 8 percent to special needs children or parents or those who are job seeking, 3 percent to parents in school for a maximum of 18 months, and 4 percent for Child Protective Services, Child Welfare or Foster Care.
Flowers said if subsidies aren’t continued, “Who will care for the children? Will they have appropriate care or none at all? What will employers do when employees are not able to work? What about the lost employment?”
Justifying the continued upfront funding for the other programs in addition to daycare subsidies, Flowers relayed some specific instances of recent weeks where grave consequences could have easily been the result of not having intervention care available.
They included: an elderly woman who had a 104-degree fever and a kidney infection who could have died if she hadn’t been checked on and directed to medical attention; a man with an infected injury infested with maggots who would have had a leg amputation without attention; a father on crystal meth who started stabbing a mattress on which a baby was lying; and a newborn with cocaine addiction who needed placement until the mother suspected of still using the drug cleaned up her act.
He said that by cutting funding for those programs “society puts some in desperate circumstances that could result in desperate actions to take care of their families.”
DSS already has taken actions to freeze all vacant positions, release all contractual staff including two social workers, allowing only mandated travel and essential purchases, and stopping all overtime.
They plan to make further cuts for the loss of Social Service Block Grant and TANF money, including reassigning some staff to perform protective services mandated by law and temporarily reducing or suspending any services that would not subject clients to risk of harm.
Craven County Human Resources Director Amber Parker said between 40 and 50 employee jobs would be directly threatened if the programs were not funded, and Craven Area Regional Transit System Director Terry Jordan said that program would be indirectly affected by reduced ridership.
DSS Business Manager Kim Morton said that while daycare services reimbursement has essentially been promised to come eventually, “we have not been given any further information” on the others.
Board chairman Scott Dacey, attending the meeting electronically from Washington where he is monitoring congressional action, said, “Nobody has suggested these programs will be carved out. I think we have a real expectation that we will be reimbursed as soon as the government comes back to work.”
Vice Chairman Tom Mark said, “I think we should continue. We can’t do this indefinitely, but I don’t think we will have to.”
The board meets in regular session at 8:30 a.m. Monday and plans to consider the situation with any new action by Congress and information from staff.
Neighboring Jones County has suspended day-care subsidies for 149 children, which costs about $500,000 a year. Jones also is looking for additional funding from Smart Start, like Onslow County has done, in order to continue providing day-care subsidies.
Pamlico and Carteret counties have given notice that they will suspend day-care subsidy funding in 10 days, and Lenoir County’s notice puts the suspension date at Oct. 31.
Beaufort County is waiting to see what happens in Congress on Oct. 17 before taking action.
Sue Book is a reporter for the Sun Journal.