(Updated with comment from the state Department of Social Services) This article originally appeared in La Voz Hispana. Gilah Benson-Tilsen translated it into English.
Nearly a dozen in-home childcare providers visited La Voz Hispana’s newsroom to report the non-fulfillment of their payments and to describe the way they and parents were mistreated by employees of the state program “Care 4 Kids.”
Led by Celia Fleming, of “Discovering the World Family Day Care” in New Haven, the owners of these childcare centers denounced serious problems in the payment system, the reason for their decision to go public.
“We’re here because we want Care 4 Kids to change the way they process paychecks and other documents, so that we can receive our paychecks promptly and in full,” said Celia Fleming.
A Department of Social Services official responded that the state is making payments within the 15-day contractual deadline, and gave several reasons why the timeline isn’t shorter.
Lucia Paredes, owner of “Little Lights Day Care,” at 15 Webster Street, New Haven, also protested: “I’m having a very unusual situation now, which has never happened to me in the seven years I’ve run my business. I’ve had some children for more than four years, and now – in the middle of September – is when I go to get my certificate to be able to cover the past month. That is, until the end of the month of September, I won’t see a single cent of what they owe me for the month of August. And that matters, because you know that problems can be resolved with money. It’s because of that that I’m here today.”
“The problem that I have with my business is that they pay me late also. They always pay me around the 11th or 12th, and when I come to see, I have unpaid debts, for which they charge me extra fees. You have to keep in mind that sometimes, when I send my documents to the state, they say they haven’t received them, and so I have to go and send them again,” indicated Maria I. Vargas, of Fairy Tale Day Care LIC, at 532 Ferry St. in New Haven.
But the irregularities of the Care 4 Kids program, as far as Ms. Vargas is concerned, don’t end there. “There’s another thing: they’re not going to pay me for two kids I took care of in the summer, because they say I sent the papers too late. I did send them, but because they didn’t take them in, it was two months that I took care of those children for free.”
Marcia Perez, of “Family Marcia Day Care,” at 257 Lexington Avenue, also of New Haven, expressed that she was there for the same reason. She gave as an example the month of July, which she was hardly able to get paid for by the 20th of August. “This is not at all easy for us, when within our group some of us are single mothers, and we have responsibilities. We have to pay for so many things, and they are putting us behind,” she said. “On account of these delays, I was behind almost three months on my mortgage. Every one of us wants to resolve our issues, and because of that we’re working to get them to pay us on time. We are all responsible with the work we do, and we give everything for those children. And if parents bring them to us, it’s because they know we’ll take good care of them.”
In response to the concerns, Kathleen Kabara, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services (DSS), which administers the Care 4 Kids program, said all payments are made within the 15-day contractual deadline. She gave several reasons behind the timeline:
“. DSS is accountable for the federal and state funds that support Care 4 Kids and maintains a high level of oversight of the program. Because invoices for services are not accepted before those services are provided, Care 4 Kids invoices are timed not to arrive in the providers’ mail before the last day of the month. Providers then fill out the invoices and ‘bill’ for services by returning them to the program.
. Each year the program experiences an increase in applications and changes during the summer months, a time when more children need care and for longer hours since school is not in session. This increases the volume of work that must be performed as provider invoices are being processed.
. To accommodate requests for payment by direct deposit from child care providers, payment run days were recently changed to Mondays and Wednesdays. The two recent Monday holidays caused payments in July and September to be delayed by a few days (although they were still within the 15-day contract standard timeframe.) This aberration is not expected to recur until the first of the year.
. Bottom line - payments are being made within the contract standard but, in some cases, not as soon as providers are accustomed to. Altogether, the program processes nearly 8,500 invoices a month.”
Ruben Mallma, of “Ruben’s Family Home Day Care,” at 57 Main St. in New Haven, also revealed another of the program’s faults, adding, “We as providers help parents fill out the application, something we’re not supposed to do, because it’s not our job. Still, we go beyond simply caring for the children. Then when we help them fill out an application, we’re doing a job which really belongs to Care 4 Kids. It seems to me like they should have personnel who inform the parents and direct them on how to fill out an application.”
Mallma was also very emphatic when describing another anomaly. “There is a situation more serious: I have parents who have told me they haven’t been treated well by the personnel of Care 4 Kids, because they ask them a thousand questions and give them no answers. Also, they complain that they’ve had to wait an hour or more on the phone, and, it’s unbelievable, they’ve even been hung up on.”
Another complaint Mallma made had to do with yet another common problem: “The Care 4 Kids program has pointed out certain errors in the application process. For example, they cite things like incomplete documents, or claim that they’ve never received the application, in spite of the majority of providers suggesting to parents that they send it through the mail. And not satisfied with that, we also take on the work of sending a copy by fax. Even so, they tell us that they never received them.”
Ruben Mallma expressed that many times Care 4 Kids has organized workshops for childcare providers, who have expressed to them their problems and their reality. “They have listened to us, but absolutely – until this very day – they have not done a thing.”
At the meeting was present Helene Figueroa, Director of the Child Care Division of the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 union, which according to her is a large union, representing some 4,700 workers in that branch.
“Today we are here with the participants of Care 4 Kids, which is a program that helps families of limited means with childcare-related needs, due to the high costs involved. These are women who work very hard caring for those children, and who have to deal with – basically – many delays in their pay, and face many bureaucratic obstacles to receive their fees.”
In addition, in a written declaration submitted to our newspaper, Figueroa made clear the position of the union she represents, writing: “This night we are standing in solidarity with these childcare providers, who unfortunately are the lowest-paid workers in the state. In particular, it is the work of these childcare providers which allows many mothers to be and to remain employed. It is unbelievable and unacceptable that those who are providing a service so essential must wait weeks or even months to receive their salaries. It is past time that these care providers are treated with the respect that they deserve.”
The director of the Child Care Division of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 stated that this coming October, they would begin negotiating again with the Care 4 Kids program. “As members of this union, the childcare providers of this state will be part of the negotiation process.”
This same thing was emphasized by Luis Torres, whose job it was to interpret for the providers who are not fluent in English. “We have already won the right to be unionized, in a vote carried out in December of the past year, something which the Governor, Dan Malloy, has already signed. Now the fight begins – after six long years – for the signing of a contract. And when we begin to write this contract, we’re going to demand – in written documents, in a concrete and complete form – that our payments will be dealt with on time. This way there will no longer be a need to talk to a supervisor from Care 4 Kids to find out why they haven’t paid us. This will be part of a contract, which they must accept and obey.”
Celia Fleming, leader of the movement, read a memorandum that basically explains the reasons why they feel deceived by the system and the changes they seek. “We want Care 4 Kids to change the manner in which it has processed checks and documents for many years, so that in this manner we may receive our wages on time and complete, since parents are not able to be responsible for said payments, as Care 4 Kids tells us. We question this excessively prolonged method of processing applications, certificates, bills and checks. They changed the method of payment, so that now it is direct deposit or a card that Care 4 Kids gives us, by means of which they deposit our pay. But this isn’t a problem for us; our major problem is that wages don’t arrive on time – that is, before the first of each month or on the first of the month.”
“On this point we feel indignant, cheated, powerless, since we love the children, and we enjoy our work. Many of us set aside much of our time at home to dedicate especially to the children and their families. We follow the regulations of the state, providing care and an environment that’s safe, clean, and conducive to learning. And above all, quality care.”
“We believe we are a key part of the life and future of these children. Today we are simply reclaiming the rights that we have, like any other citizen, to receive our wages on time – because the years have passed, the world has evolved, and today there is ample technology, and Care 4 Kids is still using the methods of 20 or 30 years ago.”
“This has made it difficult for us to pay our utility bills on time, and it’s affecting our credit. In my case, my mortgage, since I have to pay it at the start of the month. Each one of us has a different story and status. Some of us are single mothers or widows, or simply are heads of the household and our families depend on us.”
“I have listened to providers who have told me that they only accept families who can pay with money, because they don’t like the system of Care 4 Kids. It’s a shame, because many families cannot pay us in cash.”
Lizavetta N. Galindo, of “Lizavetta’s Day Care,” at 15 Birchwood Rd. in East Hartford, who arrived late to the meeting because of traffic, took the floor asking for justice for the whole profession: “Something I want to make clear to Care 4 Kids, is that we are not asking for help. We’re simply asking that they pay us what they owe us. Just as we give Care 4 Kids the privilege of paying us after a month, we expect that in the same way they’ll work to get us the check on time. That is the reason we’re here today, hoping for them to respect our rights!”
“And another thing,” she added, “with the nutrition program, there are parents who tell us ‘You’re also giving me food, because the state is paying you. But it’s not like that, because to give a kid breakfast, they pay us $1.25, and for a sandwich, they give us forty cents, but no one pays us to prepare them for those kids. And in addition to that, we also use up water, gas, and our free time.”
To conclude, the group of providers explained how the Care 4 Kids program has only one office in the state to process the records of 4,700 childcare centers in the region. “We’re of the opinion that they should have one office per city to expedite our payments,” Celia Fleming suggested as a solution to the problem.
The childcare providers of the state expect that during the negotiation process this month, they will manage to put an end to these abuses and injustices on the part of the Care 4 Kids program. It’s for this that they are now up in arms, although there are hopes for better days, as Helene Figueroa, representative for the union, asserted: “As soon as they begin the negotiations in October, God willing, we’re going to have a contract ready for the month of December. And this will be converted to a legal contract, finally, on July 1st of 2013.”
There are 4,700 in-home childcare providers in the state, who today are up in arms to get the “Care 4 Kids” program to respect their rights as they should. Some of the owners and managers of these centers for children were on “La Voz Hispana” of Connecticut, describing anomalies in the payment system and other irregularities. (Photos from the newsroom).
Celia Fleming, Ingrid Serna, Marcia Perez, Mayra E. Valentin, Ivonne M. Vargas, Lucia Paredes, Maria I. Vargas, and Lizavetta N. Galindo were among the childcare providers present at the conference table of “La Voz Hispana,” together with Ruben Mallma, Luis Torres (interpreter), and Helene Figueroa of the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 union.