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OPINION - Childcare crackdown

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wisconsin has done a good job cracking down on daycare fraud. It’s now possible they’re doing too good a job.

Over the last five years the state has caught 40 childcare centers with ‘phantom kids’. These are daycares that claim they’re watching kids that they aren’t – and are billing the state for it. One Milwaukee daycare claimed that it watched 86 kids, and was open for second-shift. A state investigation showed on many days the center had less than a dozen children, and closed at 5:30p. The owner was ripping off the state by more than $500,000 a year. She’ll be in court in October and will be landing in jail.

This crackdown is a success story. The number of kids in state-subsidized daycare has held about steady over the last five years, while state spending on the program is down by 30%. The only thing that’s disheartening is that the numbers show how rampant the fraud was.

But now the state is turning its attention towards individual parents. This is largely a mean-spirited waste of time.

State policy is that when parents aren’t at work, they should care for their kids. Well, yes and no. Most daycare centers bill by the week. You pay for Monday through Friday, even if you don’t use the childcare service all five days. For welfare families, the state pays by the week too.

But now the state is auditing the work records of some welfare parents. If mom was off on Thursday but the child was at daycare that day, the state wants the parent to pay. So if a parent uses that day off for a medical appointment, or go to school, or take care of family business they could be forced to cover 20% of their childcare bill.

This strikes me as silly. Wealthier parents do this all the time, leaving one kid at daycare while they take another to a doctor’s appointment. After all, the thinking goes, daycare is already paid for. The state doesn’t want welfare families to have this latitude. Generally, I agree parents should watch their own kids whenever possible. But the state isn’t cracking down on outright fraud here; this is a trumping of parental judgment about whether kids should or shouldn’t be in daycare for a specific day. These payroll and timecard audits are expensive and time consuming, and the state is trying to recoup small amounts of money from very poor people. It’s simply not cost effective, and should be stopped.

Chris Conley
9.18.13