Editor’s note: This commentary is by Amy Johnson and Donna Bailey, directors of the Parent Child Center of Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and the Addison County Parent Child Center respectively, on behalf of the Parent Child Center Network.
An open letter to Vermont legislators
We are writing to express our strong frustration with the process used by the Department for Children and Families and extreme concern for the families with young children that we serve. Specifically, we write to protest refusal of DCF to fund the vast majority of our requests for coronavirus relief fund dollars that were allocated through H.965 (act 136) and were intended to go to the Parent Child Centers, CIS and Child Care providers to ensure that we could continue to safely provide the services that families need. Further, the guidelines for these grants were so narrow, that parent child centers did not even include many Covid-related expenses in our applications.
Our understanding of the legislative intent of H.965 was to make sure the system of support for families with young children had the funding needed to meet unanticipated Covid-related expenses and replace lost revenues so that services could continue when families need them most. Also, we believe that the state should be drawing down as much of this one-time federal funding as possible to help families through this difficult time, shore up our system of services and supports, and prepare us for whatever is going to happen next. We know that as we emerge from the immediate crisis of Covid, new and ongoing issues will be evident with the families we serve.
As the Department for Children and Families has rolled out this grant program, it seems that the true intent is to limit what the funding can be spent on, force providers to spend money without knowing whether it will be reimbursed, and change policy through accounting decisions. DCF also limited the timeline for spending, ending the possibility of spending money at the end of October, as opposed to offering as long a timeline as possible under federal guidelines. Although the full document is not available online, the chart below was shared in the House Human Services Committee on Tuesday, and it outlines a policy that DCF appeared to be operating under to deny as much as possible. NOTE: 84% not approved on the PCC line.
We are asking you to direct the Department for Children and Families to approve the already allocated CRF grant funding to the Parent Child Centers as intended. Additionally, we would like some accountability for why these grant applications were denied. We would also like to know how much was requested for “anticipated expenses” which does not show up on the chart above. The application asked for both incurred and anticipated expenses. The reality for many PCCs is that they cannot spend funds until funds are approved for expenditure. The risk of spending without knowing the expense will be reimbursed is not possible for any organization at this time. Several PCCs are at negative cash flow and have limited reserve funds because of years of underfunding and the additional stress that Covid has put on our finances. It is very clear that we would not have the money to pay for expenses so that we could get reimbursed.
The justification that was given in the House Human Services Committee on Tuesday that “other options were available” (e.g., the PCC doesn’t need a dishwasher that heats to a certain temperature to sanitize dishes because a chemical could be used in the old dishwasher instead) is frankly, unacceptable. We are the front line of services and supports to families that are struggling through one of the hardest times anyone has seen in a century. The state of Vermont and our community partners are depending on us to help these families get through this time. We cannot do this work safely without this funding and without our state partners being supportive of our work and looking for every way possible to help to shore up our system of supports and services.
Families need action. PCCs need funding. We could tell you the sad stories about the families that we are supporting every day. You know what we do and how we help families. You know there are families in your communities that need this help. Parent Child Centers are already stretched beyond the limits of financial endurance. Without this funding, the additional stress will only make it more difficult to serve families when they need it most.
We do feel the need to say that on the business side of the administration, it seems that the Agency of Commerce is doing all it can to help businesses get as much funding as possible and supporting them through the grant application process to maximize grant funding. We do not understand why this same approach is not being used when we are talking about service providers that the state is depending on to keep our families with young children healthy and whole.
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We know this is a passionately worded letter. We know that you have had our back and that you support our work. We are coming to you in hopes that you will stand up for families now. We have been functioning at our limit to provide critical state services to families on behalf of the state. We will do what we can for families for as long as we have any resources left. Children and families deserve much more from their government that is supposed to be fighting on their behalf. Nickel and diming the providers on the front lines of service delivery sends a clear message to families that they are not the priority for our state.
Thank you for considering our request. We stand ready to answer any questions, provide testimony, or any other information you may require.