Rochester childcare center loses state funding over clerical error

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(ABC 6 News) – 35 families at a local child care center have lost access to their children’s daycare center due to funding from the state’s child care assistance program being pulled.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has claimed Quality Kids Care Center has committed fraud, but the Center’s workforce says it’s all just a misunderstanding.

The situation has not been good for either families or staff; approximately 90% of families have stopped bringing their children to Quality Kids and the majority of staff have had to go on unemployment. Most of the staff that are still showing up to work are volunteering on their own time.

On July 21st, employees and families at Quality Kids Care Center were given a notice from the Minnesota Department of Human Services that the childcare center would no longer be eligible for funding from the child care assistance program.

“It seems like they can make mistakes, but we can’t,” said Helen White, director of Quality Kids Care Center.

According to the notice from the DHS, the state is claiming that three families did not qualify for childcare assistance during COVID-19 lockdowns. Yet the center was still receiving those payments, which leads the state to claim fraud has been committed.

White disagrees. She says it was a mistake that has been blown out of proportion because the center’s owner, Warda Saleh, does not speak English as her first language.

“They pointed out that there was a pattern of mistakes in billing, but the accusation is that my boss has frauded them and is being dishonest. And that really hurts my heart because I’ve worked with her for eight and a half years and she’s the most honest person I know,” said White.

One mother who has three kids at the center spoke with ABC 6 News, saying that many of these families are uncomfortable sending their children to other centers, because there are very few BIPOC owned daycares in Olmsted County.

“The few kids we have here, they see how empty our center is. And they keep asking me, ‘Ms. Helen. Where did the other kids go, are they coming back? We don’t want to lose this daycare, we love you. We’re family,” White said.

While this was a decision made at the state level, Olmsted County is working with these families to find other childcare options.

“Olmsted County did not have advance notice of the decision made by the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding Quality Kid Care Center Inc’s CCAP eligibility,” said Meridee Braun, director of Olmsted County Family Support and Assistance via email. “We empathize with the families impacted by this matter. We agree that the notification process was inadequate and has resulted in a difficult situation for the 35 families who were receiving care at the center through CCAP.”

But White is concerned for the future of Quality Kids Child Care Center.

“We developed the staff over eight and a half years. Many of them have been here since the beginning and so if we lose the staff we won’t be able to replace them,” said White.