City questions legal status of parents seeking childcare aid | AspenTimes.com

City questions legal status of parents seeking childcare aid

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Despite concerns that some undocumented workers may be receiving city-funded tuition assistance for childcare, the Aspen City Council declined Tuesday to call for stricter screening of applicants.

The council, led by Councilman Tom McCabe, raised questions about how Kids First determines who is qualified for childcare assistance and whether any attempt is made to determine an applicant’s legal status in the United States.

The Kids First advisory board has had the same debate, according to Director Shirley Ritter, who outlined the agency’s policies in a memo to the council.

Kids First, supported by a city sales tax, helps fund licensed childcare programs in Pitkin County and provides financial aid to families, based on need.

The agency’s budget for financial assistance next year totals $243,000. Currently, 62 families receive assistance from Kids First and 26 applications are pending, according to Ritter. She estimates the agency provides assistance to about 20 percent of the estimated 400 children enrolled in childcare programs in Pitkin County.

To qualify, applicants must live or work in Pitkin County and submit their last income tax return, W-2 forms from all employers and most recent paycheck stubs from employers. The Kids First board concluded that an individual who can provide those documents should already have been screened by their employer to verify their status as a legal worker.

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Not all employers are diligent in that respect, McCabe countered.

The city’s other option is to have Kids First use the I-9 form that employers use to check documents and determine the legal status of parents who seek the financial aid, said City Manager Steve Barwick.

“Or, take the names, submit them to the INS and let them do the work,” McCabe said.

Ritter, in her memo, urged the council to accept the existing policy as sufficient.

“It is my professional opinion that to require city staff to complete I-9 forms and inspect documentation could have serious negative consequences. The first being that it raises an issue that is complicated, emotional and divisive in our community,” she wrote.

McCabe said he’s not anxious to strip children of childcare, but he wonders how much the city spends through various programs supporting individuals who are here illegally.

“I have no idea what the dollar impact is,” he said. “We’ve never tried to figure out what part of our tax dollars go to something that’s illegal.”

“So what do you want us to do?” Barwick said.

“Nothing,” was essentially the response from the two other council members present for the discussion.

“I am not troubled by the current policy,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud, suggesting the value of childcare far outweighs what the city might pay in financial aid to an undocumented parent.

“I don’t want to get into immigration enforcement,” said Councilman Tony Hershey. “These people are here, and we need to provide them with services, including childcare.”

In some cases, the children being served could be U.S. citizens, even though a parent is undocumented, Barwick added.

“Since it would appear we do at least a modest amount of screening, I’m going to let it drop,” McCabe said. “It’s probably not big dollars.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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