By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Low-income parents in Northeast Mississippi who receive a federal voucher to help them with child care costs will have to be finger scanned, starting in February.
Mississippi Department of Human Services officials said the controversial finger scanning system is being initiated to save funds by not paying for children who are not actually in day care on any particular day.
DHS “is working to maximize federal dollars so that more low-income families in Mississippi have access to quality child care,” said a news release from DHS spokeswoman Julia Bryan. “Through these changes, a larger population of low-income families can be served so Mississippians can move from welfare to work.”
On Wednesday, more than 100 day care providers and parents attended a public meeting at the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Auditorium to express their opposition to the program to Human Services officials.
They complained about the program scaring away parents who need child care and of using federal funds to pay for the finger scanning program that could go for additional slots for low-income children. The providers also expressed concerns about additional costs that might be passed on to them.
DHS officials listened to concerns and recorded them, but did not answer any of the questions during the public meeting.
The state has entered into a contract with Xerox to install the finger scan devices. According to a DHS handout, $1.6 million in federal funds will be spent in the current fiscal year for operations and maintenance.
Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, said the state committed more than $12 million to the program over a five-year program. She said it was initiated during the administration of former Gov. Haley Barbour and is being enacted now.
It will be enacted in some parts of the state in November. Parents, others designated to pick up children and daycare directors in Northeast Mississippi are slated to undergo training on the new system in November through January.
Burnett said the program will use funds that could have gone to provide more openings for children at daycare centers.
The program provides vouchers for child care for parents who earn less than 80 percent of the state’s median income. Burnett said because of limited funds the program normally covers only parents who earn less than 50 percent. The parents must work, or in certain instances, be in school to qualify for the federal program that is administered by the state.
As of Aug. 12, there were 18,500 children in the program with more than 8,000 on a waiting list.
She said Louisiana is the only state with a similar finger scanning program.