NAPLES — Lisbet Ogaza took a break from studying Friday morning to watch her 5-year-old daughter during sing-along time at the NCEF Early Childhood Development Center in East Naples.
Ogaza will graduate in December with her registered nursing degree from Edison State College, made possible by her hard work and focus on her future.
What helped the single mother along the way is a child-care subsidy so her daughter, Melanie Cardentey, could be enrolled in the center on the Edison campus. The assistance freed Ogaza to attend classes and earn her degree. She has received the child-care subsidy for three years.
“I am able to go to school, otherwise I would not be able to,” Ogaza said. “I cannot wait to finish and work.”
This week, the Collier County Commission unanimously approved $25,000 to the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida so the nonprofit can meet requirements for receiving $2.3 million in state and federal funding available for child-care subsidies.
The commission historically hasn’t provided direct money to nonprofit social service agencies, but Tuesday’s action was considered economic development incentive dollars. There is a direct tie to keeping people working and off welfare when the expense of enrolling their children in child-care programs can be subsidized, said Kathleen Reynolds, chief executive officer of the early learning coalition.
“I can guarantee the economic impact of this program,” Reynolds said.
Because of the subsidies, 1,000 local children are enrolled in child-care programs and 500 families are able to continue working, she said.
In addition, the state and federal funding ensures another 1,133 people are employed in child-care centers, she said. The coalition has contracts with 150 child-care centers in Collier.
The state calculates $14,000 is saved against welfare expenditures and housing assistance by each family that is kept employed with the help of the child-care subsidy, she said. Reynolds uses a more conservative figure.
“We can say $10,000 in taxpayer money is saved for every family we can put to work because we can subsidize their child care and they are not receiving welfare,” she said.
In order to qualify for a subsidy to help pay for enrollment in a child-care center, a client must be working a minimum of 20 hours a week or enrolled in school, she said. Every client must requalify every six months.
“Our typical client is a single mother with two kids and it would be more than 50 percent of her income to pay for child care,” she said, adding that their typical hourly wage is $8 to $10.
With the subsidy, clients spend about 9 percent of their income toward child care, she said.
Besides the county’s $25,000, the Naples Children and Education Foundation (NCEF), sponsors of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, is providing $75,000 in cash and an in-kind contribution of $50,000. The combined funding is enabling the coalition to meet its required match of $150,000, or 6 percent of $2.3 million, to receive the state and federal funding available to Collier County for the subsidies.
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In prior years, the state allowed the coalition to use in-kind contributions from NCEF to meet the local match.
Reynolds has tried for several years to educate county leaders that the money earmarked for Collier could go to another community if the match can’t be raised. She recently met individually with each commissioner to educate them about the program’s benefits.
“I think if there is an aspect that was different about putting county dollars into (this) it was the economic development impact,” said Howard Olshansky, executive director of NCEF. “Child care is one of the most significant barriers to work.”
The NCEF trustees recognize the benefit of their investment, both to the clients and the children, but also because it brings money into the community, he said.
Commissioners all supported providing the $25,000 because of the return on the investment.
“I think there is a real value in keeping these people employed,” Commissioner Georgia Hiller said, adding that the cost of unemployment benefits would far exceed the county’s $25,000 investment.
Commissioner Donna Fiala said another plus is the children can be enrolled in safe child-care centers instead of some informal settings that some parents resort to in order to work.
At NCEF’s child-care center on the Collier campus of Edison State College, six more children were taken off a waiting list this week and enrolled as a result of assurance the state and federal funding is available, said Naomi Gordon, director of the center, which opened two years ago.
With the subsidy, most clients pay anywhere from $5 to $25 a week for their child’s enrollment, Gordon said.
Without a subsidy, a single parent or family would have to pay $200 a week for infant care, she said.
“It is not affordable, that is $10,000 plus a year,” she said. “They wind up not working and going on public assistance. It is horrific. We’re enabling parents (with the subsidy) to make their lives better.”