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Provincial cuts jeopardize Hamilton’s child-care affordability plan

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Pilot project was used by 3,391 families and an estimated 4,200 children in 2018, city says.
Author: 
Moro, Teviah
Publication Date: 
7 Sep 2019
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Hamilton's subsidized child-care program will need at $2.4-million boost from the city's budget to maintain service levels next year amid provincial funding cuts.

Staff are crunching numbers to accommodate the slimmer spending plan imposed by the Progressive Conservative government, but worry parents may end up paying more out of pocket.

A potential casualty of the cuts is a child-care affordability plan started as a pilot project in July 2018, said Grace Mater, director of children's service.

"We're just in the process of trying to determine how does this look for 2019 based on all of this new information. Can we look at continuing it until 2020 or not?"

The plan offers $10 a day for parents of children up to four years of age who don't qualify for subsidized spots in licensed child-care facilities. The affordability plan was used by 3,391 families and an estimated 4,200 children in 2018.

The city already rebooted a wait list for subsidized spots on July 15 with a surge in demand coinciding with the provincial cuts. So far, 546 children are on the wait list, but the hope is spaces will open as families exit the system throughout the year, Mater said.

Special-needs children who need resources, children in high-risk situations and those of parents ages 16 to 25 aren't put on the wait list.

So far this year, Hamilton's subsidized child-care program has served 5,845 children of 4,215 families. The monthly average is 4,464 children and 3,165 families.

The uncertainty comes as Premier Doug Ford's government reduces funding in a broad fiscal belt-tightening that has also targeted public health, paramedics, housing and long-term care.

As of Jan. 1, municipalities will have to foot 20 per cent of child-care expansion costs, up from zero. In 2021, they'll have to pay half of program administrative costs instead of 20 per cent. In 2022, the most that can be spent on administration is 5 per cent, down from 10 per cent.

"We are taking steps to align provincial funding decisions with municipal budget cycles to support our phased approach and future planning as well as seek opportunities to reduce red tape and administrative burden," Shannon Fuller, assistant deputy minister, wrote in an Aug. 28 email to the city.

Coun. Sam Merulla said the provincial downloading has reached crisis proportions for the city.

"We're trying to manage it and find solutions so people don't fall through the cracks."

Merulla said council will make a special effort to help seniors, people with disabilities and children come budget time, but the cupboard is bare.

"The big question is how are we going to do that?"

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Entered Date: 
11 Sep 2019
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