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Child care center, state disagree on denial for pandemic relief funding

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NEW GLARUS (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) has distributed federal COVID-19 relief funding in three rounds. Many child care centers across the state did everything right the first two times and received money. However, the third round came with a new regulation that caused a snag for some.

"Everything was denied, which, for us, is a little over $20,000 that our center was counting on," said Brooke Skidmore, the director of The Learning Tree in New Glarus. "That was a punch to the stomach. [It] just made me physically sick, and they said it was because of an expired fingerprint from one of our teachers."

DCF said for the first two rounds of funding, child care centers had to make sure all their employees had completed a background check. For the third round, employees had to have updated fingerprint checks, too.

"This change was made to increase safety within child care programs," the department said in a written statement.

In the same statement, the department said it communicated the new requirement to child care providers through several channels, including mailed letters, bi-weekly emails and social media.

However, Skidmore said she never received anything saying one of her employees wasn't in compliance with the new rule.

"I asked for the paperwork where I received a violation, and I don't, there isn't any," she said. "There isn't any communication that I have violations."

Other child care providers in southern Wisconsin told 27 News their funding application was also denied because of non-compliance with the fingerprint check regulation.

"I did receive letters, but I guess I thought because I had already done them that I didn't need to do them again because fingerprints don't expire," said Krista Peterson, the owner of Krista's Kids Daycare in Dodgeville.

She said while she wasn't depending on money from the first two rounds of aid, that wasn't the case for the third round.

"I was actually relying on these funds this time," she said. "So it was disappointing to not get them at all. … I was frustrated with myself because I felt like I should have been on top of it. I didn't realize that it was going to affect me that way."

Skidmore said she doesn't disagree with DCF implementing the fingerprint check requirement, but she said she wishes they were more flexible with the enforcement.

"There needs to be some grace with that," she said. "We did what we were asked for, and we're losing money doing it. That's what these funds were for, and they just took it away from us now."

Peterson said she has since updated her fingerprint check, so she's hopeful DCF will have another round of funding available in coming months.

But Skidmore said she's not giving up on getting money from the third round.

"They need to reverse this," Skidmore said. "They need to put the money back, give that money back to the providers that were expecting it, that were counting on it, that are surviving from it."

A DCF spokesperson told 27 News the agency is willing to re-evaluate cases of centers that think they were wrongly denied funding. However, he said the department won't reverse the denials for child care centers who weren't following the new regulation.

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Caroline Dade

Weekend Evening Anchor/Reporter, 27 News

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