Country Bear Day School teacher Tonie Miller with her students who are showing off their hard work learning about apples and colors. Country Bear Day School’s staff and parents were some of the hundreds of individuals in Polk County facing anxiety over the government shutdown. (photo by Leah Justice)
Country Bear Day School teacher Tonie Miller with her students who are showing off their hard work learning about apples and colors. Country Bear Day School’s staff and parents were some of the hundreds of individuals in Polk County facing anxiety over the government shutdown. (photo by Leah Justice)

Archived Story

Government reopening answered prayer for many in Polk

Published 3:33pm Saturday, October 19, 2013

The U.S. House and Senate votes on the country’s budget Wednesday, Oct. 16 were answered prayers for many throughout Polk County who feared funding for services would soon cease.

The government shutdown had already caused withheld funding for the school cafeteria program and food services in daycares, but was narrowly close to affecting funding for day care subsidies, the food and nutrition program (food stamps), the Work First program and other child and senior services such as Meals on Wheels.

Country Bear Day School owner Abby McCool said panic ensued when many families in her centers received a letter saying their day care subsidies would end because of the government shutdown.

“I’ve got parents, single fathers, that have dropped to their knees crying,” said McCool. “Every one of my parents go to work every day.”

The situation wasn’t just dire for parents, but for employees at her two centers as well. McCool has a center in Columbus and in Hendersonville with 98 percent of her children receiving federally funded day care subsidies. Henderson County could not subsidize the funding, so vouchers were set to end today if the government wasn’t reopened.

Polk County had enough day care subsidy funding to cover the costs through the end of this month. McCool said she has about 75 children at her Columbus center and another 50 at the Hendersonville center with 18 employees, so she feared having to lay off employees or run the centers with no funding.

She has already run the centers with no funding for food since Aug. 31.

Day care vouchers are available only for parents who work at least 30 hours per week or are full-time students. McCool said she has teachers and nurses who receive subsidies and spoke of how many can’t afford day care services, especially those with multiple children.

“I don’t think they (legislators) understand the impacts,” McCool said. “My whole 25 years of day care was over in one night. I’m the last that gets paid because I’m going to take care of my employees first.”

McCool also said the government doesn’t understand that without day care, parents are either faced with not going to work and possible getting fired or leaving young children in unsafe environments, such as with other children or elderly grandparents.

Day care wasn’t the only service affected by the shutdown.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Bill Miller said on Wednesday his staff didn’t know how long they could continue funding the cafeteria, which stopped receiving funding on Oct. 1.

He said even the parents who pay for lunch aren’t paying for the actual costs. The cafeteria is run on subsidies from the federal government beyond free and reduced lunch funding, that’s how paying children get a $2 lunch, Miller said. The actual cost is much higher, he said.

Fifty-five percent of Polk students are on free and reduced lunch out of about 2,500 total students. Polk Central and Sunny View each have 72 percent of students on free and reduced lunch, with Tryon having 58 percent of students on free and reduced lunch, Saluda with 53 percent, the middle school with 54 percent and the high school with 42 percent.

“We can’t just stop serving lunch,” said Miller.

Miller also wasn’t sure earlier this week if the planned afterschool program could start. The afterschool program had already been delayed because its fully funded by a federal grant. Miller said it now is planned to begin Nov. 4.

Other school programs threatened with the government shutdown included Title One, special education, the vocational program, including the school farm and computer programs, the preschool program ($1 million comes from the federal government) and some salaries.

Polk County Department of Social Service (DSS) Director Lou Parton said the main programs in her department that would have stopped receiving funding, if the government continued to remain shutdown, included the child day care subsidies, Work First (welfare checks) and the Food and Nutrition Program (food stamps).

In September there were 138 children served with day care subsidies and 2,691 Polk County residents served by the Food and Nutrition Program. Parton said Medicaid was not going to be affected, but the child and adult protective services was threatened as well.

One of the issues if funding stopped for the day care subsidies was that there are currently 44 children on the waiting list to receive those subsidies and if the funding had stopped, the current children who have been receiving vouchers would be moved to the bottom of the list, Parton said.

Following a 16-day shutdown of the government, on Wednesday, Oct. 16 the House and Senate approved last-minute legislation ending the shutdown and extending federal borrowing power to avoid default.

The Treasury Department warned that it could run out of money to pay national obligations by Thursday, Oct. 17.

The Senate overwhelmingly voted 81 to 18 to approve a proposal to end the shutdown and the House followed a few hours later voting 285 to 144 to approve the Senate plan. The plan will fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7, 2014.

President Obama signed the bill around 12:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17.


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