LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Families are struggling to verify their eligibility for Michigan’s Child Development and Care Program (CDC) which can help offset costs of childcare, a process that can take months leaving families and childcare providers in the lurch.
One such child care facility is Huntey’s Clubhouse – headquartered in Big Rapids – which has the capability of serving 700 children ages infant to twelve among its six facilities. The child care group serves mostly those from rural communities who are reliant on the state’s Department of Health and Human Services subsidy program for childcare, and a large portion of the children attending his center are receiving state subsidy; however, the current approval process needs to be improved according to the group’s CEO, Tyler Huntey.
“I know as of the last twelve months it has been a struggle and it might have even before that,” Huntey said, “They are using the same system that they’ve used forever, for applications, approvals, communicating with parents and providers, and its 2023 and there is too much technology available for us to be mailing letters to let people know where they are at in the process.”
The process which can take between two weeks and more than two months according to Huntey takes far too long as parents seeking childcare are usually in “urgent need of care” but must wait for the approval or denial letter to come in the mail.
“The biggest pain point as a provider is the lack of visibility,” he said, “if a parent is approved or denied, we find out via snail mail, and it would be easy enough if we had access into the process.”
“If we had visibility into where they are in the process, we could be a resource for them to get that adjusted,” he added.
One of the facilities encountered the issue of a family misnumbering the childcare provider ID in the application.
“Instead of us being able to send them an email and letting them know of the error and fix it within a week or so, the person who does our DHHS billing internally had to call the CDC five times before they got through to somebody,” Huntey said.
Instead of helping in the process, the employee was told that they were going to have to start the entire process from the beginning. Each family must reapply annually for approval for subsidized daycare through the mail, besides the initial approval process which can take months, which can put daycare facilities in a tough position.
“We don’t find out that a parent needs to renew their approval until we submit billing and then it comes back and it’s denied,” Huntey said, “We have up to eight weeks of waiting – and us not being paid – while [families are] going through the reapproval process.”
This reality forced Huntey’s Clubhouse to put a policy in place. If the fee bounces back to the facility, that parent is responsible for their payment until they get reapproved and can back bill from the approval day according to Huntey.
“A lot of times these families are receiving this payment because of their income levels, and we allow a two week grace period, but sometimes we have to remove kids from care because parents can’t pay the balance,” he said, “We can’t hold a spot for them when we have a waiting list.”
Huntey also expressed his concerns about the program which is administered collectively by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).
“I think if they made a portal where everything was in one place, so that you could have one point of contact to solve your issues, instead of bouncing around to different departments,” he said, “Some regional person where they know your business and you have a relationship and they understand you and what you’re trying to do. It’s easier than calling in and talking to somebody you don’t know and getting bounced around.”
Representative Tom Kunse (R-Clare) who has been one of the few voices speaking in support of a further investigation, sent a letter in late April to the state’s the State Auditor General, Doug Ringler, who replied earlier this week confirming that an audit into the Michigan Child Development and Care (CDC) program was forthcoming.
“The CDC program is currently on our audit plan, scheduled to begin fall 2023,” the letter said, “In the interim, we will compile information regarding past audits and corresponding findings involving the program. While this may not be indicative of forthcoming performance audit results, we wanted to make you aware of our prior work in this area.”
Besides a more rapid response, Representative Kunse discussed how program’s management might need some updates, particularly regarding the wait period for families.
“This would never be tolerated in private industry,” he said, “Customer service at the end of the day, this is bad customer service. Days long waiting for a call back is unacceptable.”
While Representative Kunse expressed his gratitude for the reply, he was not satisfied with the timeline.
“Customer service, people don’t normally equate customer service and the local government, well they should,” he said, “This is not acceptable service. Does the DHHS need something to be better? Well what do you need? What’s it going to take to fix it? So that’s what we’re working on now.”