State cuts work-study, child-care funding

Dylan Thomas

Gina Hackett has one semester left to complete her executive assistant degree. Throughout the two-year program at South Central Technical College in Faribault, the single mother has relied on state child-care grants to stay in school.

“Above all my loans and everything else, the child care comes first,” she said, “because if I don’t have child care, I don’t go to school.”

With statewide cuts to child-care grants and work-study programs, Hackett and other low-income students like her might have to find financial help somewhere else.

Because of a $16 million state grant shortfall, the Legislature cut the $12.4 million allotted for
work-study and slashed the child-care grant from $4.7 million to $1.1 million.

The University receives money from both state and federal work-study funds. Last year, the University funded 1,400 work-study grants with federal funds and 1,100 with state funds.

The University also received approximately $185,000 in childcare grant money that was divided among about 80 students. This year, there will only be $31,000 available.

The cuts mean fewer University students will get work-study awards, and the amount in those awards will be reduced, said Deb Pusari, the University’s Office of Student Finance Administration associate director.

Pusari said freshmen who have qualified for work-study will still receive it as part of their financial aid packages. Returning students who already receive work-study will be given priority for grants next year, although the amount awarded will be reduced, she said.

“We’re going to take our federal work-study money and spread that out between the students that received state and federal last year,” Pusari said. “But we have about half the work-study money to spend.”

Fifteen thousand students statewide receive work-study funds and 2,700 receive child care grants, according to the Minnesota State College Student Association.

Because both programs are need-based, the recipients come from low- and middle-income families, Pusari said.

The average family income for a University student receiving a childcare grant is $13,667 per year, Pusari said. The average adjusted gross income of a work-study recipient’s parents is $45,000 per year, said Pusari.

“It’s not really fair because it seems like they’re balancing the Ö grant system on the backs of lower-income students,” said Nicky Yerbich, program and communications director for the University’s Student Legislative Coalition.

Deanna Weiner, DFL-Eagan, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Budget Division subcommittee, said a deficiency appropriation bill might provide relief for students in need of financial aid for spring semester. Such a bill would appropriate money to fund the work-study and child care grants, she said.

The state Legislature convenes in January, but to help students during spring semester, a bill must be passed early in the session, said Brian Axell, who is in charge of government relations for MSCSA.

“We really emphasize that time is of the essence,” said Axell. “The quicker we can get this passed, the more money we can get into the hands of students.”

Weiner said upcoming elections and continuing budget shortfalls will affect the chances of a deficiency appropriation bill passing. But she added that the state grant will remain whole through next school year.

Finding work

The work-study shortfall will affect not only students but the University departments that hire them as well. Depending on their budgets, departments that have relied on work-study students in the past might have to reduce the number of students they hire, Pusari said.

“This change will impact departments also, because a lot of departments depended on the work-study money,” said Pusari. Still, she said, many University jobs are not work-study, and there will still be other on-campus jobs for students.

Right now, Hackett said, she’s looking for a job, since she can’t go to school without the grant. But most of the jobs she could get in her area without her degree would pay little more than $8 per hour, she said, and sending her children to daycare costs $7.82 per hour.

Hackett has tried to get child care through other programs for her children, ages 5, 3 and 1. She said she has spent three years on a waiting list to get daycare through her county, but she was recently told she has another two-to-three-year wait.

The county aid would come from the Minnesota Families Investment Program. The program requires that recipients go to school full time and work full time, which would leave little time for Hackett to see her children, she said.

Also, to be eligible for the child care grant, a recipient can’t be receiving any form of welfare.

Hackett said she is confident she can get a job in the Twin Cities area if she finishes her degree. Several businesses, expecting her to graduate in December, have already responded to her resume.

But some University students are less optimistic.

“Everything kind of hinges on this deficiency appropriation right now,” said Axell. “That seems to be the more immediate way to get relief to these students.

“If we don’t get that, it would appear that spring term is going to suffer the same fate as fall term – that there’s not going to be any money available.”

 

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