Mississippi parents will have to scan their fingerprints every time they drop off and pick up their children at daycare when a new programme goes into effect next year. But childcare providers have been protesting the system for months, saying that it stigmatizes low-income families and may ultimately take away income from already cash-strapped centres.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate Investigate State Offices Committee listened to concerns from a representative of the non-profit Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative, reports he Clarion-Ledger, in what has become a contentious battle between childcare centres and the state government.
Under the new system, Mississippi eChildcare, parents who receive childcare vouchers from the state will have to scan their fingers so the state can track their children’s attendance at daycare and preschool. Childcare providers say they fear that the fingerprint scanners could lead to a payment system in which the state would only reimburse them for the time a child is at their centre. Providers say costs to run a centre and pay staff remain constant even when children are absent.
The system has already been piloted in 20 childcare centres in the state, and was supposed to expand to 38 counties on Nov. 1 and the remaining 42 counties on Feb. 1. In October, a state judge placed the system on hold because the Mississippi Department of Health (DHS) failed to publish a required economic impact statement on time. That statement was published in late October.
The Department of Health has contended that the main use of the system is to track attendance of children receiving federal vouchers for childcare better and reduce “attendance related payment errors.” In the released economic statement, the state said it could save up to $US18 million annually by reducing false attendance claims by childcare providers.
“If we have a family that’s putting their child in care for half a day a week, that’s something we’ll look at,” Jill Dent, director of Mississippi’s Division of Early Childhood Care and Development, told Mississippi Public Broadcasting. “We won’t necessarily jump up and go cut them off, we just want to be able to make sure that we’re serving the people that need the services the most.”
A committee meeting was the latest concession childcare providers were able to extract from the state. On Oct. 12, after petitioning and being granted a public hearing, the providers received a letter from DHS saying they would extend the pilot period to allow the Division of Early Childhood Care and Development and Xerox, the company which has provided the fingerprint scanners to “explore strengthening the process.” Training sessions for childcare centres on how to use the new system were also cancelled on that date. On Oct. 24, a state judge put the programme on hold and ordered DHS to release the economic impact statement and sit down with childcare providers to hear their concerns.
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