Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Working families in Macon County may soon get some relief when it comes to finding affordable childcare.
Macon Program for Progress (MPP) closed on new property at the end of January that will be the future site of an affordable daycare center. MPP Director Chuck Sutton said the decision to purchase the property was to address current needs at MPP while planning for future expansion. The property is located on Old Murphy Road across from the Macon County Board of Education Central Office.
“The most immediate need is to replace three classrooms that MPP currently houses in a converted residence,” said Sutton. “It is aging and will soon require substantial resources to keep it in good enough condition to be a licensed child care facility – plumbing, electrical, roof, etc. Beyond those three classrooms, MPP hopes to add classroom space that will allow our agency to serve an expanded base of clients. We now primarily serve low-income families. We would like to serve private pay, state subsidized or even business or industry subsidized children that are not currently able to secure a slot in a licensed child care setting.”
Based on research completed for Macon County’s Comprehensive Plan, childcare in Macon County is costing families as much as $784 a month. The growing deficiency is causing some working parents to be faced with choosing to either stay home or use an unlicensed facility— something that comprehensive plan has been focusing on due to the impact it has on the overall economy.
“You’re looking at almost as much as a house payment,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who handles education and childcare, and will be one of the commissioners approving the plan and its recommendations in the coming months.
To be eligible for federally-supported child care, a family of three must earn less than $21,330, combined. For state subsidies, a family can earn no more than $40,176, and both parents must be working or going to school to be eligible.
Still, the Comprehensive Plan assessment, which started with the Macon County Childcare Issues Committee’s work in 2009, said nearly 70 percent of children lack child care due to capacity shortfalls in the county’s 19 licensed centers.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services lists about a dozen registered childcare families in Macon County who have spots available for 951 children under the age of 5. Those spots are primarily for children 3 or older, or preschool aged. There are only 48 infant spots, 109 1-year-old spots, and 146 two-year-old spots in the entire county. At the last U.S. Census done 10 years ago, Macon County’s under 5 population was at nearly 1,800.
MPP is the largest childcare facility in the county, currently serving more than 325 children in one or more programs including Head Start, NC Subsidized Child Care, NC Pre-K and Parents as Teachers. The expansion will not only provide additional spots to families in Macon County in need of childcare, it will specifically cater to working families who make too much money for subsidy, but not enough for the private home daycare options.
“MPP’s vision for a facility at this time is in a very early stage,” said Sutton. “We would like to construct a facility to accommodate eight classrooms. That would be three classrooms to replace the existing aging facility and five more for expanding our reach to unserved children. It would also have space for the support functions such as a commercial kitchen.”
While future plans for MPP are still in development, Sutton said the newly acquired property is more than enough to address current needs and continue exploring options for the future.
“The new property is almost 10 acres. It is large enough for MPP to accomplish this first task and have room for more as time goes on,” said Sutton.