<CENTER><B>State pays parents to stay home</B></CENTER>

By Sara Quam

Rock County couples have another option when deciding whether to continue working or to stay home with their infant children.

So far, no one has taken advantage of a new option that helps offset costs of missed work by paying a parent to care for the child at home.

The first-of-its-kind legislation was chief authored by Rep. Richard Mulder (R-Ivanhoe) and earned a first place Innovations Award at the Midwest Legislative Conference.

Moms or dads who want to stay at home through their child's first year get reimbursed for 75 percent of the state's share of licensed family day care, which is $1.75 per hour in Rock County. The amount of money reimbursed to the family amounts to about $3,000 to $5,000 a year.

Mulder said after more than 32 years of being a physician, he has an understanding of what people want. "This understanding inspired me to write this bill," he said. "Now I look forward to having an opportunity to encourage other legislators to develop similar child care programs in their own states."

How the program works

Eligibility for At-Home Infant Child Care is based on income, and the family caregiver must also meet the requirements of working, going to school or looking for work at the time the child is born. There is a 12-month limit in the program and the time can be used at once or divided among children.

"It's underutilized," Pam Nelson, financial assistant supervisor for Rock County Human Services, said of the new law. "Most people go back to work after maternity leave for financial reasons."

Although it hasn't been used so far in Rock County, the potential is there. Nelson said the basic sliding scale program, which helps qualified families pay for child care costs, has a waiting list of 12 families for the first time since 1997. The AHIC could help some of those families on the waiting list.

Families are currently having to wait because the county has already hit its maximum amount of allocated funding for the sliding fee program.

Nelson speculated that the AHIC program hasn't seen applicants because word of its existence hasn't gotten around yet.

To be a part of the AHIC program, families must turn in an application. Nelson said, "There's a state pool of money, and we have to determine how much they'll draw from the pool and then apply to the state. It's a first-come, first-served system."

Rock County's AHIC child care reimbursement is $282 a month. Families who can afford it are required to pay part of that $282. For example, a family of four grossing $28,000 gets reimbursed $219 because of a $63 reduction based on their income.

The reimbursement tops off at $37,940 for a family of four because the income-based co-pay equals the program's reimbursement.

In calculating income, the program considers things like sick or family leave - almost everything employers would be spending on caregivers had they stayed at work.

Nelson said the program is ideal for working people who want a little more time at home after having a child. Some of the families waiting for placement in the standard sliding fee child care program could consider this option.

"If a family is on the sliding fee waiting list and decided to use this, they wouldn't lose their slot on the list," Nelson said.

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