Missouri House votes to extend child care worker background checks

The Missouri House of Representatives has voted to increase protection for children in the state’s childcare facilities by broadening background checks on those facilities’ workers.

Representative David Wood (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Versailles Republican David Wood told his House colleagues the state is not conducting background checks including fingerprints of those who come from out of state and apply to be childcare providers.

“We want to make sure our children in Missouri are safe.  When you have a childcare provider and currently a fingerprint background check is not required so we’re only checking inside the state, so we could have a violent offender coming from another state crossing in and working in our childcare facilities … this is just a good safety issue for children,” said Wood.

Wood said his House Bill 2249 would put Missouri in compliance with federal regulations.  Missouri is currently operating under a federal waiver, and once that expires on September 30, Missouri will lose about $5-million in federal grant money.

Unless and until it passes, he said parents don’t have much ability to know the background of those workers taking care of their children.

“These smaller providers actually have more restrictions than the larger ones do.  They do the fingerprint background checks, but those that are receiving state money and federal money in the state of Missouri aren’t required to right now, so this fixes that,” said Wood.

Applicants undergoing background checks would be allowed to work in child care facilities while the check is being conducted, but could not be left with children unsupervised during that time.  A worker would have to undergo a new check every five years.

The bill’s requirements would not apply to facilities not getting state or federal money, to those taking care of children within three degrees of relation to themselves, or those who have four or fewer children in their care.

The House voted 131-4 to send HB 2249 to the Senate.  The same language is included in another bill, House Bill 2042, which has also been sent to the Senate.

The language of HB 2249 is also found in House Bill 2042, which reforms the sex offender registry.

See our story on HB 2042 by clicking here.

Bipartisan bill would help parents keep state child care assistance when receiving pay raises

Bipartisan legislation in the Missouri House seeks to help families stave off what’s called the “cliff effect,” with child care.

Representatives Cryscal Quade (left) and Dan Shaul decided to work together, across party lines, on a bill to help working parents keep needed child care subsidies when they earn a pay increase, while the two were on the state tour for freshmen legislators. (Photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)
Representatives Cryscal Quade (left) and Dan Shaul decided to work together, across party lines, on a bill to help working parents keep needed child care subsidies when they earn a pay increase, while the two were on the state tour for freshmen legislators. (Photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

The “cliff effect” refers to a person receiving a pay increase that puts him or her over the income limit for receiving a state benefit.

“Basically it came down to this.  You make so much money and all of a sudden you fall off the cliff.  You get one more pay raise and you get no more day care subsidy,” said Representative Dan Shaul (R-Imperial).  “We found that to be counterproductive to trying to hand up.  All of a sudden, what’s the motivation to continue on?”

Shaul, whose wife is a social worker, and Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), who herself is a social worker, are sponsoring identical legislation that would launch a pilot program in Green, Jefferson, and Pemiscot Counties.  It would allow individuals to participate in an existing transitional program.

That program offers tiered levels of childcare subsidies based on the individual’s income level, but requires participants to start at its lowest income level.  Under Quade and Shaul’s bills, a participant could enter the program at his or her current income level, rather than have to take a lesser-paying job.

Quade said the program would keep working parents from having to make tough choices about whether to accept better pay, or to decline it because it would not offset the cost of losing government assistance.

“It’s my belief that if we allow this to happen we will be essentially having more folks enter the workforce at a higher paying rate, eventually getting off of the state subsidies at every level if we’re allowing them to become productive members of society by not having to make those hard choices,” said Quade.

The House Committee on Children and Families held a hearing on those bills, House Bill 712 (Shaul) and House Bill 713 (Quade).  They heard testimony from several Missourians including Leann Seipel of Sparta, who told representatives she had to turn down a 15-cents per hour raise to avoid losing her child care subsidy.  She still lost the subsidy for one month.

“It cost me more than half of what I bring home in a month to provide child care for my children,” said Seipel.  “We ate a lot of Cheerios and ramen noodles that month, and it took me four months to pay off that debt for one month of child care.”

“It’s a very scary thing when you’re sitting there and you’re trying to do the math and trying to figure out, if I take this raise or if I take this new job am I going to lose my child care subsidy or food stamps or something,” said Seipel.  “When you’re living so close to the line, every little bit … it was a 15-cent raise.  15-cent raise killed us that month.”

Meghan Roetto of Republic moved from Montana to Missouri after her husband returned from serving in Iraq and left her and her daughter.

She told lawmakers she was frustrated when after going to college and getting a bachelor’s degree, she was offered a $10 an hour job, and that meant she would not be eligible for child care assistance.

“I felt punished for getting a degree and doing better, and being able to give to the workforce,” said Roetto.  “I chose to move from the nice home I lived in which did not have expensive rent – it was a wonderful neighborhood – to a smaller apartment that didn’t have as nice of a neighborhood – it was not as safe – so that I could continue to work.  I felt that I could move myself forward better.”

Shaul said he and Quade decided to work together on the issue after discussing it, “somewhere between Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and Rolla,” during the tour for freshmen legislators, held between the November election and before the start of session.

“It was a good trip.  We talked about kids, and parents trying to raise kids, and how we could help them with the child day care subsidy,” said Shaul.

The committee has not voted on those bills.