'Rarely an answer': Daycares face confusion, inconsistent child-care subsidy funds

The education department said parents can expect to receive their child-care refunds by June, but child-care providers still have questions about delivering the subsidies.

Daycare operators say they are struggling with accounting, reimbursing parents

The education department said parents can expect to receive their child-care refunds by June, but child-care providers still have questions about delivering the subsidies to parents. (Submitted by Nicole Loubert)

While residents of the Northwest Territories have been hearing about subsidies to make child-care more affordable, families that use daycare and day home services might be wondering when they'll see those discounts.

According to the education department, families should receive their refunds by June.

The subsidy, which is retroactive from January, is delivered through child-care providers who apply for a monthly subsidy and can then provide their services to families at a reduced rate.

Day home operators, however, say there is still confusion about when they'll receive the money and say they haven't been able to turn to the department for support. 

Yellowknife day home operator Yvette Cooper said she got her subsidy money last week for January to April, but said there are inconsistencies in when operators get the funds. 

"It's very hit and miss across the board," she said. "Some people have gotten January to March, but not April. Some people have gotten nothing. One woman got April, but none of the other [months]."

Yellowknife day home operator Yvette Cooper has received her subsidy for January to April but says there is a lack of support from the department in carrying out the refunds. (Natalie Pressman/CBC)

Though Cooper's subsidy came through, she said delivering the refunds "is not as straightforward" as she anticipated.

"They just give you a chunk of money and they did not help us split it up."

Cooper said she's still getting the correct figures sorted out in her Excel spreadsheet.

Deadline dates allow flexibility, department says

In an email, education department spokesperson Erin Mohr said when programs get the funding depends on when operators completed their paperwork. She said the department is processing payments in the order that documents were received.

Child-care providers are required to submit their subsidy paperwork by the 10th of each month, to be refunded by the 7th of the following month. That means if operators submit documents by May 10, for example, they would receive payment by June 7th. 

Mohr said the department chose those dates to allow flexibility in day home and daycares' month-to-month registration. Having the deadline on the 10th of each month allows "adequate time for the program to confirm registration for the following month as well as for [the Education, Culture and Employment Department] to review, clarify if needed, and process payment," she said.

But the system is leaving operators with questions. 

Cooper is asking parents to hold off on paying her for the month of May while she waits for the latest round of the subsidy, but she said other expenses can't be put on hold. 

"I don't know anybody who could be like, 'Oh sure, my paycheck, pay me whenever,'" she said. "My mortgage company is not willing to wait for me to figure this out."

Operators struggling to get questions answered

Nicole Loubert is among the providers who have not yet seen any of the government funds. 

Loubert operates a day home in Yellowknife. She said she still has questions on how to deliver the subsidy and has been trying to reach the department for weeks. 

"I send emails, I send questions, I have no answers — rarely an answer." she said. "I tried to phone, nobody's inside. And I'm not the only one."

"I feel totally alone," she said about the lack of communication.

Nicole Loubert has been running a day home in Yellowknife for 25 years. She said she's been trying to contact the education department for weeks without answer. (Submitted by Nicole Loubert)

Despite long wait lists in childcare across the territory, Loubert said she has a spot open in her day home and she's scared to accept new clients without any certainty on how the government program will change. 

Loubert said she's had to change her contracts with families three times in recent months to adjust to the government plan.

"Now I'm afraid to just take a new kid and give them a new contract and have to change everything again because I don't know what's coming," she said. 

"They are leaving us in the dark."

Among her questions for the department, Loubert is looking for clarity on how to deliver refunds for clients that don't use her services for the entire month. 

Since she has an open spot, Loubert said she was able to offer it to a family that needed childcare for only three days, however her paperwork for May has already been submitted.

Loubert said she'll account for the change in her June submission, but is wondering if that family will be receiving their refund from another childcare provider in June and how that will impact the subsidy she receives. 

"I'm afraid that at some point they'll decide, 'You know what? We paid you too much a few months ago,'" she said. "The money will be given to the parents ... and me? I will lose."

Once child-care providers receive their subsidy, they are required to refund payments to families within 60 days. The education department said that all families should expect their refunds by June. (Submitted by Nicole Loubert)

Asked to respond to operators' concerns on getting in touch with the department, a spokesperson said in an email that "department staff have been working diligently to respond to any questions from providers and families."

Education department spokesperson Briony Grabke said programs can contact their regional early childhood consultants or access online resources to help address questions. 

"The department is happy to connect with any providers who have additional questions," Grabke wrote. 

The department said that once operators receive their subsidy, they are required to refund payments to families within 60 days.