childcare food program

Susan Custer, right, owner of The Child Care Cottage in Frederick, pours milk during a morning snack Friday to children in her care. At left is Heather Churchey, lead teacher at the day care center.

Without explanation, Frederick County Department of Social Services abruptly ended its decades-long participation in a program to fund healthy meals for children in day care.

Nearly 200 local providers are left scrambling to pay for the previously funded food — forced to choose between taking on the cost themselves or breaking contracts with parents to raise service prices.

In a letter dated Dec. 17, local child care providers learned from the Frederick County Department of Social Services that, at the end of 2018, the agency would no longer sponsor the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Several providers described receiving the letter as they were beginning their Christmas vacations.

Ashley Earls averaged a $1,000 reimbursement check each month for the 10 children enrolled in her program in Walkersville. Her day care service is the main income to provide for her own four children, she said.

Earls said she cannot raise rates on her families to make up for lost funding.

“I can’t ask these families to do $30 a week [more]. That would skyrocket prices,” Earls said. “I don’t want my families to incur a higher expense because of something we cannot control.”

Instead of raising rates, Earls is making up for the lost money in other ways. After the last child leaves her program around 5 p.m., Earls now works a second job, averaging 20 hours a week. She has asked parents to donate the crafts and office supplies she used to be able to afford on her own.

“I shouldn’t have to work a second job because the county abruptly cut off funding for us,” Earls said.

Jeanette Jones said she will need to raise her rates. She has provided day care for 23 years and currently operates a center in Ballenger Creek. Jones estimated that she would need to increase prices by $20 a week per child to make up for the lost funding. Almost all of her parents are low-income, though, and she does not want to raise her rates.

The program’s monthly checks, averaging around $600, brought healthy food to the 10 children she cares for, Jones said.

“It has made me be able to buy the better food instead of the junk food and keep my prices lower because of it,” she said.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program is a Maryland State Department of Education program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program reimburses child care centers, adult day care centers, family child care homes and after-school programs for providing nutritious food and teaching about healthful eating, according to the program’s website. Providers are required to complete training and submit meal plans with local sponsors to receive the funding.

The Frederick County Department of Social Services had been the local sponsor for more than 20 years, approving meal plans, doing inspections and handling the reimbursement checks.

Susan Custer, who has owned and operated The Child Care Cottage for 18 years, said she was reimbursed about $580 a month for the two meals and snack she provides every day for the 18 children in her program. The reimbursement checks did not cover the full cost of the food each month, but helped pay for the nutritious meals that can otherwise be expensive, she said.

“Some of these children, these might be some of the only meals they get,” Custer said.

Custer and her other teachers will continue to provide the same food for the children but will pay for the meals themselves, she said.

Local child care providers have not been informed by DSS of any transition plan to a different local sponsor. Frederick is the only county in the state without a program sponsor, said Bill Reinhard, MSDE director of communications.

The news of the program’s end came without warning, providers said.

Terry Heffner, an in-home provider for eight children in Middletown, said a worker with DSS was in her home doing a food program inspection several days before the letter arrived. The worker completed the inspection and said nothing about the program ending, she said.

Heffner said her reimbursement checks averaged around $200 a month. Despite the now increased cost to her, Heffner said she will not break the contract she has with parents to make up for the lost reimbursements.

She does not think parents can afford an increase in the already high cost of child care, especially in the middle of a contract, she said.

The program subsidized meals for around 190 care providers in the area, distributing more than $800,000 in fiscal 2018, said Patty Morison, Child Care Choices director at the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, in an email.

The Department of Social Services confirmed in an email that it was ending its participation in the program. DSS did not respond to repeated requests by phone and email in the past week about why it was leaving the program.

Leslie Albritton, an in-home provider in Frederick, said she was disappointed by the lack of notice or explanation from the agency. Several providers said they felt as though a promise had been broken, while providers had to keep their promise to parents by continuing to provide nutritious food.

“I’m going to make sure my kids eat healthy, but now that’s going to cost me,” Albritton said.

The loss of the program will affect families, too, providers said. Beyond a higher price, children could receive less-nutritious meals.

Donna Austin, who runs an in-home service in Walkersville for nine children, said she had planned to replace a worn gate in her home. She may now need to use that money to pay for food since she cannot rely on the $750 reimbursement check she averaged each month, she said.

“When you have to come up with $1,000 or $800, depending on the check, you have to start cutting. Cutting on arts and crafts. Cutting on safety,” Austin said. “You think it’s just the food program, but that money that you don’t have to pay for food, you put it into gates, books, curriculums.”

Morison, whose Mental Health Association program supports local child care providers, said in an email that MHA is searching for a new sponsor for the food program.

Follow Wyatt Massey on Twitter: @News4Mass.

(60) comments

Kat10656

Maryland EXCELS has notified providers that until a new sponsor is in place FREDERICK COUNTY family programs in Maryland EXCELS will not be required to meet the criteria for participation in the CACFP in order to publish a quality rating of 3 and above. Maryland EXCELS is a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) a program that awards ratings to registered family child care providers, licensed child care centers (Head Start, Letter of Compliance facilities, school-age only child care), and public pre-k programs that meet increasingly higher standards of quality in key areas. ( per MSDE). Even though the program is considered voluntary Family Child Care Programs must participate in order to take children on the state voucher program. Which is now being called a scholarship and is overseen and administered by Maryland Department of Education.

gary4books

Shift - "war in Iraq?" I supported the war, especially after we had boots on the ground. Who knows what we would have now if we had not fought. A entrenched Saddam with nukes and all his generals promised him. If you can no say we would be better off now, you ought to leave the question open for history to answer.

TINAE

Some of you people are path..ic! SMH at you!

TINAE

Some people are so pathetic! SMH at you pathetic people!

Ebowman

As a parent of a child in a daycare who is part of this program, here are my thoughts:
1. Don't assume. I'm a working professional who chose to put my son in a good in home daycare that provides personal attention and focus on education. I'm not poor and not looking for a handout.
2. The daycare provides nutritional meals. This is important to me as a parent and I'm willing to pay for it.
3. My daycare informed of the change immediately after it went in affect and let us know our rates were going up. This is understandable.
4. I know every parents situation is different. While a rate increase can be absorbed easily by some, I know that isn't the case for all.
5. The real question I have is why this happened so abruptly and without explanation?
6. To the people complaining about "spending your tax dollars" That is your right as a tax-payer and I encourage the discourse. In return I ask, What program do you propose that is more important then promoting healthy eating and nutrition in a child when our country has an epidemic obesity problem that costs us billions?

Ajearls5

Thank you for your response from a parent’s stand point and for graciously supporting your provider!

Joey Pesto

Perhaps it would be a good idea if Wyatt Massey, the author of the article, could follow-up with an updated article...and maybe he will be. This may be a big story for Frederick County. The FNP needs to do much more investigative journalism. Our local, state and federal agencies need to be held accountable.

Ajearls5

Joey, you’re absolutely correct that there are a lot of questions left unanswered, and while I’d like to know who made the call to cancel this program, and why, I feel that the article did us (providers) justice in explaining how it impacts us.

The food program has been around for 2 decades — so those who are complaining about the program existing in the first place, you’re a bit behind— the others who think this program goes to profit private providers, you’re sadly mistaken—it’s there to benefit the children and adults on the program! Let’s band together and ask “why” it was taken away, and where is the money going now, if not to this program?!

Providers contacted FNP on our own behalf to publicize the de-funding of the program—the county wouldn’t have made it known to anyone, so the fault lies with the county and not the author of the article.

In December there was an article published regarding Frederick County being a “desert” area for childcare. Basically, there are way too many children in our county and not enough providers to care for them while their parents work. This program was a perk/benefit/reimbursement for licensed providers. It off-set just a portion of the high costs associated with childcare.

Without the program, many may consider turning in their license. If that happens there will be an even greater surge in children who do not have safe and educational environments in which to reside for 10 hours a day while their parents are working.

shiftless88

do you know that at $100/month/kid for food you could feed 4,750,000 kids for a year, or build a hundred or so miles of a wall

Ajearls5

The point of the article is to shed light on the county members who decided to cut the budget for a program that’s been benefiting our children for 20 years! Anyone has the right to complain how our tax money is spent, but at the end of the day this program was in place to ensure that children are being provided healthy meals.

The reimbursements are taxable income and paid out on a tier that was previously approved by the county. That is the discrepancy of the amount per child to reimbursement rate. Providers do not get to charge or claim meals at different rates. Only 1 meal and 2 snacks, or 2 meals and 1 snack are claimable. Lunches and Dinners were paid at higher rates. It is the discretion of the provider of what foods to serve, and where to purchase them, as long as they are on the approved foods list.

valerie_dale

" Clarification
This story has been updated to clarify that the Frederick County Department of Social Services is a state-run agency." ~FNP

Charles_Nelson_Reilly

Wow... so parents now have to cough up the extra $20-25 a week to feed their OWN children! This piece is Pultizer Prize worthy.

I see (2) reasonable comprmises here-

1) in the name of fairness the CEO of this daycare center takes a paycut to feed the children. She makes way too much as it is, and it is best if she shares all her profits with everyone.

or

2) The state lays off a bunch of useless bureaucrats who sit around and do nothing and feed off the taxpayers to pay for the kids food.

gary4books

Piffle. Just piffle.

Charles_Nelson_Reilly

Gary... Why don't bleeding hearts like yourself either 1)put up the money personally or 2)help raise funds? Why do you expect taxpayers to foot the bill?

Dwasserba

Look. We can't control how many children people have before they realize providing for them can be a hardship, and they don't have a backup plan when it happens. We need well fed children for proper brain development to be the best adults they can be. It's an investment a taxpayer can understand.

shiftless88

I would do so, right after conservatives pay the public back for the war in Iraq that they own.

Charles_Nelson_Reilly

"Look. We can't control how many children people have before they realize providing for them can be a hardship, and they don't have a backup plan when it happens." Yeah, that sounds like something we should teach our kids?! Do whatever you want, have as many kids as you want and when you realize you can't afford them, get someone else to foot the bill for your poor life choices. This all sounds so uplifting.

"We need well fed children for proper brain development to be the best adults they can be. It's an investment a taxpayer can understand". So the Eggo waffles smothered with high fructose corn syrup and the other garbage being fed to these kids is now and "investment". Cause shoving crap down their throats will build self confidence in them and develop their brains so they can make crappy choices with no consequences like their parents before them.

Ajearls5

Charles, I can assure you the children fed on the program were not being served eggos smothered in butter! There are (were) stringent guidelines to be on the program.

Tax payers aren’t “footing bills” for anyone per se, because this was a funded program open and available to every child enrolled in a licensed program. Rich or poor, the children’s needs were met and the high cost of supplying nutritious, wholesome, fresh, foods were off-set by the program.

Quite honestly, I can think of worse things to squabble over, but the health, safety, and well-being of children shouldn’t be one of them.

The repercussions of this closure is that many providers may decide to turn in their license, forcing parents to seek unlicensed care, parents whom are already struggling with groceries and childcare bills may have to incur a higher expense, children may begin to receive more processed foods, or not be served enough healthy foods. The list can go on and on.

If you’re not happy that the county has been supplying the program for 2 decades, then that’s an issue to revisit during election time I suppose. The bottom line is, that now, without warning, or explanation, the county closed a program that benefited society as a whole.

How would you feel to go to work next week and your boss tell you that you’re receiving a pay cut for no explanation, but expecting the same results in performance? It’s the same thing for us.

Yes, we own our business and it’s private, but we are still providing services, precious services, that are now going to cost our own families or the very families we work with in a way that didn’t before. It doesn’t matter the whereabouts of the money, the county is responsible for this cut and has offered no explanation nor supplied another recourse of action.

gary4books

We should fund projects that support the common good, and avoid those that waste money. What do you favor?

rpkrauss

The CEO? For the most part we’re not talking Fortune 500 here, we’re talking about operations of 4 or 5 employees who most likely average $12.00 per hour. The director may pull in a whopping $30,000 per year and if you read the article they serve a high percentage of low income working families. So using your numbers we can ask a low income family to pay $1300.00 per year more in child care or in the case of the director who has 10 kids in their programs they can take a $13,000 dollar per year pay cut (which based on the initial $30,000 salary estimate would take them down to $17,000 per year or about $8.50 per hour.

As for your second suggestion I concur with Gary

TINAE

Just another way to hurt the working poor!!!

drudake

"The Child and Adult Care Food Program is a Maryland State Department of Education program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture." You remember that genius federal tax cut we all got last year? This is the fallout.

User1

I guess you didn’t get any extra tax money? Another “blame it on Trump”. I’d like to know why this story was only HALF written. Didn’t it say “child AND adult care food”. How are the adults affected?

newspostreader

For many, no, we didn't get extra tax money. In fact his half baked program is costing me about 5k more a year. When you limit State Taxes to a 10k deduction, in a State that has one of the highest tax brackets, you screw a lot of people. The leaders in Maryland had an opportunity to make it right, but instead we get about a $40 credit even though they will bring in millions or billions more a year in taxes.

leishaharrelson

Again, the only county in Maryland effected by this is Frederick County. I do not know if and how adults on the program have been impacted or if it's just the child care providers.

Dwasserba

It mentioned adult daycare providers so I think we can assume similar conversations are going on.

leishaharrelson

CACFP stands for Child and Adult Care Food Program. The program is also for special needs adults. I do not know if this has impacted them or just child care providers.

leishaharrelson

You are correct about the funding program. But, you are incorrect on it being fallout from the federal tax cut (though I loathed that). This has been limited to Frederick County because DSS dropped the ball.

gary4books

Except my taxes went up without individual exemptions.

valerie_dale

Sadly, yes.

sevenstones1000

Some more investigative reporting on who discontinued this program and why would be helpful.

User1

Exactly! Why am I subsidizing a private day care operation? What’s the oversight on expenses?

newspostreader

I agree with you. I did not know this was occurring and is bothersome. We are paying to feed other's children, but yet they get tax breaks for those children. I don't want to see any child go hungry, but if parents had to plan out how they are going to pay all of the expenses that go along with having a child, maybe they'd think twice. For those that consistently rely on Government assistance, there is no consequence for their actions. They just continue to get more and more handed to them.

gary4books

Child nutrition relates to intelligence and health and it is to everyone's interest to promote.

leishaharrelson

The CACFP is available to all children who attend a child care that participates in the program. It is not income based to participate on the children's end. It's for all children. If you know a child in Frederick County who attends daycare, chances are they are (or were) using this program. It does not help the provider in that it does not subsidize our programs. It gives us a reimbursement of actual food costs (based on a tiered system that is based on school districts) that are used for other people's children so they have access to healthy meals. Providers have to claim the reimbursement money as additional income and pay taxes on it. Yes, pay taxes for the food going to feed other people's children. Because the food program no longer is intact in Frederick County only, providers will likely have to raise their rates to accommodate for high food costs. Most probably between $20 - $25/week per child.
Some providers serve more meals per day based on the hours of the children. Some serve less. Some have more children than others. The program does set per diems per meal and meals must fit quality/nutritional standards to count. This isn't about Trump. This isn't about the federal tax cut. This isn't about the federal government shutdown. This is about DSS abruptly stopping services in Frederick County without a public explanation. Frederick County is again the only county in the state of Maryland being effected.

CHUGFARRAH

[thumbup]

TINAE

Oh Please!!! These people are the working poor!!!

Dwasserba

See Gary's comment below. Like it or not, we are all interconnected. "Adverse childhood experiences" do not make for the most stable adults. We raised one child beginning the same year as we celebrated our 25th anniversary, and yes, that "plan" spares a child some possible insecurity but raises insecurities other ways, as some of our peers adopting from China are no longer here. But we all went through a lengthy approval process and workshops and post-adoption requirements. So yeah, I had plenty of time to notice more blithe approaches to parenthood. People often don't "plan" just because they are only "parents" after the fact, which I guess is the point to the 9 month head trip that precedes it. They should learn, some don't, no workshops required, no oversight, but denying government assistance penalizes children who didn't choose their parents. Children never do. Feed them.

shiftless88

User; why am I subsidizing other peoples' children with tax deductions? Are you going to rally with me to eliminate deductions for children?

rbtdt5

I'm with you Shift. Let's do it.

leishaharrelson

The Frederick County DSS was the administering agency of the program. They would have to respond to why they stopped after 20 years. Please read my full comment/response in one of the other comment threads.

Dwasserba

[thumbup] 7

TINAE

You got that right!?????

pappyjoe

Maybe someone should contact Child Protective Services because this is a form of child abuse. Maybe someone should question a member of the Demolition Crew because they are famous for laying out bouncing betties at the last moment[beam]

User1

Really Pappy child abuse? Someone has their kids in day care then they pay for the costs. The county is not refusing to feed them just stopping handouts to PRIVATE businesses. It is still the businesses responsibility to feed their kids according to the contract between them and the parents.

Ajearls5

Ah, yes you are correct that we are still contracted to supply the foods within our contract, but where is the responsibility of Frederick County in that they ended our contract with them with no notice or explanation? This isn’t some “half-baked” program! It’s one that took planning, education, dedication, and mandatory hours of continued education in health and nutrition. There was a contract between CACFP and providers, and because of that contract providers set their own guidelines with parents. Now that CACFP no longer exists, it affects the contract of parent and provider.

FrederickFan

The Department of Social Services is a state agency not a county agency. We need to ask our state delegation members to explain what's going on.

User1

And why the big difference in costs? One gets $1K for 10 kids, another gets $580 for 18 and still another $600 for 10. I thought there was an establish meal plan that had to get approved? All these people are capable of shopping in the same locations (Sams, Costco) or Walmart. We are not talking about daycare centers In Gaithersburg or another high cost area.

leishaharrelson

There are differences in reimbursements based on what school district the provider lives in. It is a tiered program. The assumption is that poorer school districts have more poor children with less access to healthy meals. There is also an assumption that children who attend child care automatically attend in their own school district (this is not always true). So, some providers get a higher reimbursement rate per meal if they are on a higher tier. Other providers don't get as much being on a lower tier. By the way, the "reimbursements" we receive are counted as "taxable income" to the provider and we receive tax forms from the state to include with our returns. We have to claim reimbursements as "additional income" and be taxed on the food that we are providing to other people's children. How fair is that? Most providers have not factored in food costs in their rates because of the assistance and popularity of the food program. Now that it is gone, at least temporarily, the community will likely start experiencing significantly higher child care costs. Those without children in child care may not care. But, those with children in child care will start paying the price until/if the food program comes back. I doubt the providers will be able to absorb these high costs, nor should they have to.

Joey Pesto

Can someone explain where the money originates from, is it federal or state monies? Also, also what is the role of MHA, DSS and Frederick County? Why is Frederick County the only county this has happened to? The article brings up many more questions than giving answers.

shiftless88

I agree about more questions than answers. If DSS wasn't responsive what about some of the council members or our Executive?

User1

I’d like to know how Ashley gets $1,000/mth just to feed 10 children. Is she feeding the steak and potatoes every day? Costs my family less than half of that amount.

public-redux

It's another typical case of the poor having too much money and the rich, too little.

shiftless88

That is $5/meal (assuming one meal a day); not exactly extravagant.

duffy5x

Why don't YOU do daycare since you, apparently, have all the answers?

shiftless88

User thinks he has answers but he/she clearly has no heart

Ajearls5

Do you have 10 children, User1? Of course not, so clearly it would cost less to feed them! Lol!

Seriously though, in all honesty, I get everyone’s frustrations about “tax” dollars and such and feeding other people’s children... but at the end of the day, a program that was established for 20 years that benefited children and disabled adults alike, has been cut with no explanation to the people it impacted the most. THAT is the story..

Also, to better help understand the discrepancy between providers and their reimbursement amounts.. the reimbursements were paid on a tiered system. Providers could only claim 1 meal and 2 snacks, or 2 meals and 1 snack, regardless of how many meals we truly serve. I have some children who have attended 6:30 am-5:30 pm, so they were served breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner. I could still only claim the 2 meals and 1 snack. And, you can only claim when the children are in attendance. If a provider takes off a week then they can’t claim the meals. On the other hand, if a provider is approved for weekend care they can claim all 7 days as long as 1 daycare child was in attendance. This is the largest difference between why providers amounts are vastly different. I do not recall the exact amount, but I believe even the highest tier wasn’t over $3 a meal (lunch and dinners were the highest reimbursed).

leishaharrelson

Hi Joey, the money comes from the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). It's a federal program. Federal monies go to each state. The states break it down to counties. Each county has an assigned agency that administers the program. For the last 20 years, DSS has been that assigned agency. They abruptly and without explanation quit being the administering agency after some 20 years of doing it. We are the only county in Maryland who has been impacted. Ultimately, MSDE is responsible for implementing the program on a state level. We have not yet heard from them about it either. (btw - This has nothing to do with the federal government shutdown). I am a provider who has been impacted too. Instead of raising rates, I am asking parents to pack their children's lunches now. I am still providing breakfast, snack and milk/drinks out of my own pocket. The program was developed to make sure young children (and elderly adults/adults with special needs) have access to nutritious food. Most providers in the area may start raising the cost of child care as food expenses are one of our largest expenses. Or, they will have families bring food or a combination of raising rates and parents bringing food. To answer your question about why DSS stopped, we have no answer; they would have to respond to your question. Again, most providers will have to pass the costs onto parents in the form of higher rates in order to keep their programs viable. For some children, these were their only healthy and balanced meals available to them. Someone questioned how it cost one provider a $1,000/month. She feeds 10 children several meals a day: breakfast, am snack, lunch, pm snack and dinner. That's a whole lot of meals! (Not all providers provide every meal and we are not all reimbursed the same amounts per meal as there is a tier system based on the school district the provider lives in.) And, we have to follow guidelines for each type of meal. For example, to be a valid lunch, there has to be an approved protein component, a vegetable, a fruit, a grain (and at least one whole grain a day) and milk. I hope this better explains the program and the impact to local family child care providers.

cyntiast

lesihaharrelson - so the money is available - the issue is that DSS has stopped being the administrator of the program? What agency is logical choice to take over that role?

leishaharrelson

That is correct! The money is still flowing...and available. The Frederick County food program needs a new home. I am not sure about an agency to take over as we do not understand the issues involved in why DSS shut it down. I would like input from Child Care Choices who operates in Frederick under the Mental Health Association (they offer training resources to child care providers). Child Care providers are licensed through the Office of Child Care who is under MSDE. I honestly don't know what agency is set up best to manage the food program. We are all hoping that Maryland State Dept. of Education is working this. It would be nice to hear from someone!

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