Extra grant money will help U students who have children

Libby George

After finishing a full day’s work, Adam Herr heads to class and then home for his next full-time job: parenting.

A single father with sole custody of his 4-year-old son, Sam, Herr is resuming school while working approximately 50 hours a week as a logistician with the Air Force. Herr left school in 2000 when he said he could not get child care help.

This year, however, at least some student parents will receive a reprieve from the state. The University received $157,000 to revive the state child care grant – after operating last year on $30,000.

This will ease the stress of at least some of the 164 students currently on the waiting list, said Susan Warfield, University Student Higher Education for Low-Income People Center coordinator.

“At this point the hugest child care crunch has been restored,” Warfield said.

The state funding is substantially lower than the $250,000 the center requested and will likely not be sufficient to cover everyone, said Warfield’s graduate teaching assistant, Kay Giddings.

That is why Herr is braving the life of full-time worker, parent and part-time student. After seeing doors to grants closed before, he said he can’t risk going part-time and praying for grant money; he somehow has to pay $310 per week in child care.

“The University pretty much told me there wasn’t a lot available,” he said. “I’ve looked into (grants), but I’d have to physically quit my job to apply for them, and I’d be sitting for months … trying to raise a kid on bare minimum. I’m not willing to do that to him.”

Warfield said she is still optimistic. The University has at least two more chances during the year to request additional funding. Ideally, more money will be reallocated toward the grants during the year, she said.

“With student parents it’s such a fine line between surviving and not being able to pay for child care,” she said. “None of these child care grants in most cases are actually covering child care.”

Eligibility standards and the maximum grant size changed as well. Instead of 10 semesters of eligibility, students are only eligible for eight while receiving grants, and the maximum grant amount per child per semester dropped from $1,300 to $1,100.

According to HELP Center data, the average award for fall 2002-03 was $1,185, and the average student registered with the center paid $2,240 for child care.

University Child Care Center director Patty Finstad said the government is creating a cycle of people dependant on government aid with the cuts.

“What the government is creating is a pool of slave labor,” Finnstad said.

She also said legislators do not understand the struggles of student-parents.

“We have college students complaining, yelling at the legislature that it is so hard to work 20-25 hours a week … and go to school,” Finnstad said. “Ask these students how happy they would be to work 20 hours a week, and go to school and be a parent.”

The wait for a spot in University child care – which offers scholarship rates for low-income students – approaches a year and a half. The same wait is true for University student-parent housing, which offers hard-to-find affordable housing for parents.

Herr is currently living with his mother while he searches for a decent place to live with his son, a task he said is daunting.

Still, Warfield said after the horror of last year’s cut – when she had students crying in her office – this year will not be as grizzly.

“It’s significantly better than it was last year,” she said. “That pretty much bottomed out our emergency fund quicker than I’ve ever seen it before.”

She also said in the dark times of last year, the University began a new development process to raise funds for child care resources.

“What we’re hoping is we will be able to go on if we ever have a crisis like this, we will have resources,” she said. The center faces a steep battle on this front as well – the death of the biggest contributor – leaving private funding up in the air.

But long-term solutions provide little comfort to Herr, who said getting the nursing degree he seeks will take up to two years longer than it should because of his military status.

“Probably the most vulnerable group in this is children,” said Herr, who worries about leaving his son when he gets called to duty. “If they want to make a stable home, probably the most important thing they should do is make sure the parent has a degree.”

Libby George is a freelance writer.

The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]