Courtesy of the OEC Twitter
Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye meets with the CT Early Childhood Alliance in February (Courtesy of the OEC Twitter)

HARTFORD, CT — It’s not completely solved, but the new commissioner at the Office of Early Childhood is doing what she can to reduce the backlog of payments to childcare providers who participate in Care4Kids.

For the past three months Beth Bye and her team have been trying to reduce the backlog of applications, which delay providers from getting paid. The program helps pay the childcare costs for working families, but a backlog created when the state switched to a new, $10 million software system still has some providers wondering when they will get paid for services they provided months ago.

“There is nothing that’s good about this because there are people who have not been paid,” Bye said Monday during an interview in her office.

In order to reduce the backlog, the Office of Early Childhood with Deloitte, the software provider, and the United Way, which processes the applications for the program, decided to reduce the backlog by automatically renewing families whose eligibility was up for review in December, January, and February.

The new applications and renewals waiting to be processed dropped from 5,385 on February 28 to about 3,538 as of March 29.  This backlog will be reduced to about 2,743 because of the recent decision to automatically renew for a full year some 1,048 children who were up for redeterminations in February.

How it works is this: parents or providers can apply for funds from Care4Kids to pay for childcare for low-income families. For a family of four with two children, eligibility is limited to households with annual incomes of $56,000 or less.

Often a parent applies and a provider will receive a certificate for the child’s care. The new system is supposed to eliminate paperwork and offer direct deposits to providers, and improve efficiency. To be eligible for the program, both the parents and providers are required to undergo training in safe childcare procedures.

Bye has been traveling the state meeting with daycare providers trying to resolve the issues they face when the state began switching over from a legacy system to a new online portal, which will eventually interface with the system at the Department of Social Services.

For many, not getting paid meant they had to delay making mortgage, car, or utility payments, said Ben Phillips, communications director for CSEA SEIU Local 2001, the union that represents the childcare providers.

He said the situation is untenable and they are contemplating legal action against the United Way, which recently increased case manager staffing by 33 percent to handle the case backlog of applications and renewals.

The United Way processes the applications and renewals for the joint federal and state program.

As of Monday night, no legal action had been filed, but childcare providers will be rallying Wednesday outside the United Way headquarters in New Haven to call attention to their situation, Phillips said.

Marcia Iannacone, who runs a home daycare in Danbury, said Bye has been a pleasure to work with.

Iannacone, who has participated in the Care4Kids program for 23 years, said at a recent meeting in Danbury that Bye gave out her personal email to providers who were struggling to get their situations resolved.

At first she was nervous to use it, but she ended up reaching out to let the office know the redetermination status was removed from the online portal and within a day it was fixed. She said having that information about a child’s application cuts down on the amount of time providers spend calling the office.

The information about applications is now updated online daily for providers.

Bye said call times at the call centers have decreased from a high of 47 minutes down to two minutes and the staff have made 800 outbound calls to families who were missing information on their applications.

Bye said they’ve also reached out to the union for the names of providers who have not been paid in order to expedite those cases.

“She knows our struggle,” Iannacone said.

But that doesn’t mean that the problems will be resolved overnight.

Bye said she doesn’t want these computer problems to shut down access to the program both for families who need it in order to go to work and for providers who need it to make a living.

Bye, a former early childcare director herself, said the childcare providers are mostly women who don’t get paid enough for what they do.

The decisions Bye has made in her first few months at the agency increased the number of families enrolled in the program, but, the former chair of the Appropriations Committee, said it’s still within the budget.