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Financial aid rules for child care hurt parents in school

Jackie Molyneaux is part of the list; one of 285 names.

Molyneaux, 25, has ambitions to become a nurse. She had been working as a waitress and going to classes at St. Pete College to fulfill her prerequisites, then left the food-server duties to enroll full-time in nursing school at Rasmussen College in Holiday. She plans to become a licensed practical nurse and eventually an RN.

She and her fiance, Adam Passarella, own a house in Veterans Village in southwest Pasco and have a 21/2-year-old daughter, Kyla.

"She's very smart,'' says the proud mom.

Smart, but stifled. Kyla is no longer in a learning environment with other youngsters her age at a New Port Richey pre-school. The expense is out of her parents' reach. So she stays home with her uncle, Molyneaux's 20-year-old brother, when mom goes to nursing school.

While Molyneaux worked, she and her husband paid $80 a week for child care with the balance of the $136 weekly tuition subsidized by the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando counties. When she became a full-time student, Molyneaux found herself needing to qualify again for benefits.

It didn't seem like it should be a problem. The coalition budgeted $700,000 for just this type of situation. In September, using federal stimulus dollars, it created a new program to pay child care costs for people retraining or enrolled in school. It was enough to help up to 250 people trying to better themselves beyond a low-wage job. Previously, those people were ineligible for subsidized day care.

But demand exhausted the kitty by mid-December. On Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Early Learning Coalition established the waiting list. Molyneaux applied a few days later. Sorry.

She is not alone. The coalition's client list for what is called school readiness — which includes the 250 slots for parents in job training or school — stands at 5,066 children, a 25 percent increase over a year ago.

Molyneaux was aggravated by the lack of notice and by the paradox: The family received a subsidy for day care when their income was higher, but now does not get financial aid even though they have less money.

She said her fiance earns $400 weekly detailing cars for an auto dealership. Out of that, they must pay the mortgage and living expenses. The coalition's offer to find them low-cost day care was unrealistic.

Christine Hahlbohm of Spring Hill in Hernando County shares the frustration. The mother of two school-age daughters, Angelina and Gabriella, she is separated from her husband. She formerly worked at a pre-school, but lost her job a year ago. She now is retraining for a health care job. Schooling is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week in Port Richey, so she needs after-school care for the girls, who attend Explorer K-8.

Already enrolled in school, she, too, discovered the waiting list three days before class started.

"It's really wrong,'' said Hahlbohm, 36.

She ended up arranging for care at the YMCA in Spring Hill. It provided a scholarship, knocking 70 percent off the tab. Still, Hahlbohm pays $35 a week out of her unemployment insurance benefit to make sure the kids aren't left alone after school. It makes the constrained household budget even tighter. She had to tell the kids to forget about cheerleading, and there is no unnecessary driving because of the cost of gasoline.

Jim Farrelly, the Early Learning Coalition's executive director, is not unsympathetic. He acknowledges how counterproductive it is to advance career training without being able to help people with child care. But with 1,000 extra children this year, he's worried about making it through to June 30, the end of the state fiscal year, and wonders about next year.

"I've got my fingers crossed we will not suffer losses and maybe there will be another stimulus,'' said Farrelly. "It's unacceptable to have (so many) eligible families on a waiting list.''

Crossing your fingers. It's not much solace to the 285 names on the waiting list.

"They want people in this world to become something,'' said Molyneaux. ''So you try to make something out of yourself and nobody can help you.''

Financial aid rules for child care hurt parents in school 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 3:35pm]
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