The Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA currently pays $150 every three years to remain a licensed child care facility, but as of Jan. 1, that rate may increase 8,000 percent to $13,442.
These figures come from a draft released by the State Department of Health Services (DHS). The increased fees are in response to a $5 million funding reduction to the DHS at the third special session of the state Legislature.
Local licensed child care facilities, like the Ahwatukee YMCA, are nervous about what this drastic increase in licensing fees will mean for their future.
“We’re OK with a fee increase, but we want it to be reasonable,” said Connie Nelson-Askew, executive director of the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA. “It goes against what we believe in because our mission is to keep kids in affordable child care and provide assistance to children in need.”
After participating in a state rally with other child care providers, Nelson-Askew believes that concerns over the increased licensing fees are a big issue for other child care providers.
“I heard from a lot of other businesses that if the fees go into place as is they’re going to have to close their doors,” Nelson-Askew said.
According to Bruce Liggett, executive director of the Arizona Child Care Association, astronomical increases in licensing fees will change the landscape of child care in Arizona.
“There’s no question that some programs would close or consolidate, and I think some of the most vulnerable programs will be the smaller faith-based programs, as well as groups like the YMCA,” Liggett said. “With increased fees it won’t be attractive to people to open up new centers, and there will be fewer choices for parents.”
After the DHS released its plan for increased licensing fees, it opened the issue up for public comment and held meetings in Phoenix and Tucson. Letters from people across the state poured into the DHS and state Legislature with ideas for alternative funding.
“It would be tremendous if they could find some new resources, but at this point we’re left in the dark waiting,” Liggett said. “The governor needs to provide some immediate financial relief to allow us to have a more thoughtful and reasonable approach.”
Laura Oxley, communications director for the DHS, said the proposed increased fees were decided upon with much thought and consideration.
“In an effort to carry out our mission and ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and other divisions of licensing, we had to examine the costs associated with the inspections that are required by law,” Oxley said. “We tried to find an equitable and fair way to increase the fees for the funding to carry out our safety mission.”
The public comment period for the increased licensing fees was closed on Nov. 2, and as the DHS is currently scanning through the proposed ideas.
“Our hope was that someone out there might have a magic idea or solution that we had not thought of,” Oxley said. “We worked really hard on our first draft knowing that it would have a large impact on everyone involved with child care in the state, but we need to make sure that we can continue ensuring safe, licensed child care facilities.”
Although a solution is yet to be found, law makers are aware of the child care licensing fee issue. Rep. John McComish (R-Ahwatukee Foothills) believes that a better solution must be reached.
“I know that the DHS has to increase the fees because they haven’t been increased in 30 years, but it’s too much all of a sudden,” McComish said. “I think there’s a very good chance that while there will be an increase in fees it won’t be of the magnitude that was originally projected.”
Ideally, McComish hopes that the DHS can sort out the problem on its own without the help of legislators. If the DHS cannot reach a solution, however, McComish believes the Legislature will step in.
“Government officials respond to the people, so people should continue to voice their concern to lawmakers,” he said.
In the meantime, child care providers like Nelson-Askew from the Ahwatukee YMCA hope that a new solution can be found before the 8,000 percent increase in licensing fees affects her child care center.
“We want to develop a realistic plan and make it work,” Nelson Askew said.