Day Care Providers Say City Program Cheats Them

by Jordan Moss

It’s called BEGIN. But some of the women in Providers United, a local day care network formed just last year, worry that red tape in the city program governing child care for welfare recipients could instead put an end to their fledgling businesses.

BEGIN, which stands for Begin Employment Gain Independence Now, is supposed to pay for the child care of women enrolled in the city’s welfare-to-work program. And, in most cases, it does. The problem is that many of the providers often don’t get paid on time or at all because of poor communication from BEGIN.

Miriam Figueroa had four kids- all enrolled in BEGIN -in her care for two and a half months. But she says she was never paid, and now is out over $1,000. She says the mothers did not file the appropriate paperwork with BEGIN, as they are required to, indicating where the children were enrolled. A trip down to BEGIN headquarters in Manhattan with pictures of the kids and information about their parents got Figueroa nowhere.

Martha Smith experienced a slightly different problem. Last August she cancelled a planned vacation to care for the children of a neighbor who desperately needed child care while she fulfilled her work assignment. After the first two weeks Smith received her first check from BEGIN, but from then on she received nothing. She urged the woman to go to the BEGIN office to try to straighten things out and the woman told Smith she would. It wasn’t until Columbus Day that Smith learned the mother had had a nervous breakdown and was no longer enrolled in BEGIN. Smith eventually did get her money, but only because the city caseworker assigned to the woman volunteered to intervene.

When BEGIN does notify providers that a child is no longer eligible for city-funded child care, it is often too late. Doris Camacho was notified in a letter she received on Sept. 8 that the two children she was caring for were no longer enrolled in the program. But the letter stated that the effective termination date was Aug. 27. Camacho stopped caring for the children, but she was out two weeks pay. Anania Almonte, Providers United’s coordinator, said this was the most typical problem with BEGIN among the providers in her network.

The women say there are some simple measures BEGIN can implement to rectify the problem.

“I feel that we should have some sort of open line to [BEGIN] when things go wrong,” Smith says.

Maveline Morales, who coordinates a similar network at Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation called Happy Faces, agrees. “The network should have someone in BEGIN they can contact directly,” Morales said. Her agency has less problems with BEGIN because it also serves as a welfare-to-work site. Since Morales and her co-workers are familiar with both the clients and providers themselves, and have access to all their relevant information, advocating for providers with problems is easier.

Almonte, who says about 10 of Providers United’s 35 members care for BEGIN children at any given time, thinks providers should be authorized to inform BEGIN that they are caring for kids registered in the program, so that there is no delay in getting the provider in the payment system.

The problem is particularly vexing for Providers United because it has otherwise taken considerable strides since its founding last year. The providers came together in the first place because they were licensed but had no children to care for. The network has succeeded in its role as a clearinghouse for referrals. It also has organized various professional development workshops for the women, where they learn how to prepare their taxes and market their businesses. There have also been trainings in nutrition, safety and early childhood development.

But with the payment problems, there is concern that those efforts will be undercut. “Now many of [the providers] are refusing to take BEGIN children because they’ve been burned so many times,” said Regina Kirk of University Neighborhood Housing Program, the local nonprofit that helped Providers United get off the ground. “You’re working for free basically.”

In addition to not being compensated for their labors, the women are also out their expenses for items like crayons, construction paper and glue, Almonte said.

Providers United said they met with the Human Resources Administration (HRA) official responsible for BEGIN in the Bronx in November, and that he seemed sympathetic. But nothing has come from that session, they said.

Asked to comment on the complaints, Ruth Reinecke, a spokeswoman for HRA said, “We’re aware of these concerns and we are working on solutions.”

While Providers United contemplates its next moves, Almonte worries that the providers in her network might end up on the other side of the welfare-to-work equation.

“If BEGIN does not pay them on time, and continues to cheat them out of their paychecks, they might end up being BEGIN clients themselves,” Almonte said.