This really pissed me off when I read it. These 4 chicks took in over 500G in child care subsidies watching each others kids. I'm gonna move to Wisconsin and babysit. http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/38309864.html Sisters get $540,000 from state mostly for watching each other's kids, and it's perfectly legal By Raquel Rutledge of the Journal Sentinel Posted: Jan. 25, 2009 The two-story house on 17th St. looks typical of the working-class homes on Racine's west side. Three bedrooms, one bath. Assessed by the city at $122,000. Yet inside, a young woman has tapped into a home-based money-making operation that netted her and her three sisters more than half a million in taxpayer dollars since 2006. And they did it with the blessing of the state. All four had been in-home child-care providers. Collectively they have 17 children. For years, the government has paid them to stay home and care for each other's children. Nothing illegal about it under the rules of Wisconsin Shares, the decade-old child-care assistance program designed alongside Wisconsin's welfare-to-work program. "It's a loophole," said Laurice Lincoln, administrative coordinator for child care with the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services. "Do we have concerns about it? Yes, it can be a problem. But if it's allowed, it's allowed. We really can't dispute it." The Journal Sentinel spent four months investigating the $340 million taxpayer-supported program and uncovered an array of costly problems - including fraud. But the investigation also revealed a system rife with lax regulations that have paved the way for abuse by parents and providers. Consider: Sisters or other relatives can stay home, swap kids and receive taxpayer dollars. The four Racine sisters took in as much as $540,000 in taxpayer dollars in less than three years, mostly to watch each other's kids. Rules allow parents to be employed by child-care providers and enroll their children at the same place. At some centers, children of employees make up the majority of kids in day care. In one Milwaukee location, an employer and parents are accused of teaming up to bilk the system out of more than $360,000. Child-care subsidy recipients have been allowed to work for almost any type of business. Payments were made when moms claimed to work ironing a man's shirts, drying fruit and selling artwork they made during art class. The government pays for child care while parents sleep. Counties have no way to monitor whether parents are actually sleeping while their kids are in day care. "We're not being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) who introduced legislation in 2007 to try to crack down on child-care related fraud. "We have a system where there's a whole lot of finger-pointing going on and in between, a whole lot of fraud happens." The state published new rules in November - a month after the Journal Sentinel began asking questions - yet three of the five counties with the majority of Wisconsin Shares cases were unaware of the new requirements until contacted by the newspaper. Caring for family Torneshia Simmons, a 28-year-old single mother of five, sat at her dining room table at her 17th St. house in December surrounded by her children - all under the age of 9. The younger ones climbed on her and tried to snatch the hat off her head as she explained how she and her three sisters have been caring for each other's kids for years. "I've been doing child care for my family since I was like 14," she said. "I've been watching their kids before I had kids, after I had kids?.?.?.?I've been watching all my friends and family's kids." Simmons first became an approved provider and received Wisconsin Shares money in 2002. Her sister Shanta McKinney first received child-care subsidies in 2003. Other sisters Tumina Ransom and Temeshe Brown got into the business in 2006 and 2007, according to state regulators. For a while, Simmons took care of Ransom's and Brown's kids, she said. Then last summer her 2-year-old son was found wandering around outside unsupervised. The county shut down her child-care operation. She said she now has another job that keeps her qualified for government-supported child care. But when asked for details about her work, the answers got fuzzy. First she said she worked at a clothing store called Get Fitted, Family Owned on Washington Ave. She said she worked second and third shift. A few minutes later she said she worked part time and the store was simply called Family Owned. It's unclear what she would be doing working third shift at a retail clothing store. And when the Journal Sentinel contacted the co-owner of Get Fitted, Carey Collins, he said Torneshia Simmons doesn't work there and never has. He didn't recognize Simmons' name. And his store closes at 8 p.m. The Journal Sentinel could find no record of a clothing store called Family Owned. The Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and the state Department of Financial Institutions couldn't either. Simmons didn't list an address or phone number on documents filed with Racine County. Nor did the documents contain a federal tax identification number - all facts that should have raised the suspicion of Racine county workers. Yet workers approved funding for Simmons' kids to be in her sisters' care 75 hours per week, costing taxpayers a weekly total of $1,283. Simmons, who filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2007, claims her children now go from McKinney's Racine house to Brown's house in Kenosha at about 11 p.m. McKinney, who has three young children of her own, and Brown, who has five, drop off or pick up the kids, she said. But rules prevent providers from caring for more than six children at a time - depending on their ages - so for Brown to care for Simmons' five children, she would have to take her own kids elsewhere at 11 p.m. Documents show Ransom is authorized to take care of Brown's kids. Ransom, McKinney and Brown declined to comment or didn't respond to attempts to contact them. Simmons said she's not concerned that the arrangement could interfere with her children's sleep. They go to bed whenever they want anyway - usually around 11:30 p.m. or midnight, she said. State officials say such a situation is out of their control. "Even though it might not appear to be in the best interest of the children, we don't have any authority to regulate that," said Jim Bates, a program analyst for Wisconsin Shares. The government spends $66,716 a year on child care for Simmons' kids. That's 75% more than the average Wisconsin worker earned in 2007. The full extent of the caregiving relationships is unclear in records, but it appears the sisters frequently change the arrangements. Racine County officials declined to comment on the four sisters. Nobody knows how often any of the roughly 34,000 Wisconsin families who receive child-care assistance take advantage of regulations allowing siblings to care for each other's kids. Neither the state nor the counties track that data. But the Journal Sentinel discovered it's not the only rule that's especially prone to abuse. Often-necessary perk Providers and parents are also exploiting the rule that allows parents to become employees of the child-care center where they enroll their children, documents show. The provision is common in the child-care industry. It provides an often-necessary perk for a typically low-wage job, professionals in the business say. However, if not properly monitored, providers and parents can team up to easily defraud the system. In October, the Milwaukee County DA's office filed charges against the owner of Tender Moments Day Care Center on W. Capitol Drive. The complaint alleges the owner, Shartavia Adams, and her mother, Bernice Watson, bilked the system out of more than $360,000 from September 2006 through October 2007. It was the first time in the last five years that prosecutors in southeastern Wisconsin have brought charges of suspected child-care fraud. And it is the largest such case in Milwaukee County history. "There's no reason to believe that was an isolated case," said David Feiss, a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case. Watson and Adams allegedly recruited women to work at the day care center. The women would then enroll their children in the center - bringing in roughly $150 to $220 per week per child. The children seldom attended and their mothers rarely worked, according to the complaint. But Adams billed the state more than $2 million in 2006-'07. As one state worker put it in a memo to colleagues, Bernice Watson is "known in the child-care community as the 'day-care pimp.'?" Watson and Adams have pleaded not guilty. Both declined to talk to the Journal Sentinel. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue could not locate tax records for Adams in 2006 or 2007. It's difficult to say how often this type of situation occurs, because full-blown investigations are rare. It is, however, typical for some of the bigger child-care centers to employ the parents of the children enrolled, legitimately or otherwise. Kuddle Kare on W. Lisbon Ave. was authorized to care for 35 children in any given shift. Last summer, 28 children at the center belonged to 11 mothers who were listed as Kuddle Kare employees. The center shut down in July when a baby died after being left in the owner's car all day. The mom was a former employee of the center, who wasn't at the center when the tragedy occurred.At two of Bessie's Kiddie Kollege's four Milwaukee locations, nearly half of the kids authorized for care are children of employees. Bessie's took in $2.4 million from the state in 2006-'07. And at Dreamland Child Care on N. Teutonia Ave., at least 50 of the 170 children enrolled belong to employees of the center. The state has paid $3.4 million to the center in the last two years, records show. Dreamland owner Cassandra Holley said there's nothing fishy about it. She doesn't require her employees to enroll their children at her center. In fact, she used to have a policy forbidding employees to enroll their kids because it was too distracting to workers and upsetting to the children. But then some of her longtime staffers started having babies and urged her to change the policy. "They work in different departments?.?.?.?and the center is big enough to accommodate - without them working with their children," said Holley, who has owned her child-care business for 21 years. Nothing in the regulations prohibits parents from working at a child-care center and enrolling their children there. In fact, it makes good sense in some cases, said Paula Lucey, former director of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County. "Many women entering the work force off of W-2 have limited skills, so a child-care provider could be an ideal place to work," Lucey said. Still, it should raise red flags when the ratio of workers to children is disproportionately high, said Djordje Rankovic, a former Milwaukee police detective who spent a year investigating the Tender Moments case. "There's something wrong," Rankovic said, speaking generally. "You don't need that many people employed." Milwaukee County investigators expect to take action soon in a case where all the children at a day care center belong to mothers who work at the center. The whole arrangement is fraudulent, regulators said. Rankovic is convinced a good chunk of the state's 5,600 child-care providers that receive taxpayer subsidies are stealing from the system. "I think it's just rampant through the whole state, if not the country," he said. "It's so easy to do, and there's nobody really monitoring it." Paid to sleep State and county regulators admit nobody is monitoring another provision that allows parents to get paid to sleep. The provision was designed to allow parents with young children to work third-shift jobs and sleep in the daytime. Front-line county workers say more and more people are taking advantage of the rule - despite a drop in manufacturing jobs that offer third-shift opportunities. Regulators can't confirm or dispute the assertion because neither the state nor counties systematically track how many people using the program work third shift or how many hours they authorize for children to be in day care while their parents sleep. Even if they knew how many hours were authorized, regulators admit there's no way to ensure parents use the hours properly. "It's a hard thing to monitor," said Bates, the state analyst. "It could certainly lend itself to abuse." System's other pitfalls Other pitfalls in the program stem from regulations that have allowed parents to work for just about any type of business and qualify for publicly supported child care. Payments to child-care providers have been made based on women claiming to work ironing a man's shirts a few hours a week, selling amateur artwork and dehydrating fruit - all jobs that are difficult for county workers to verify, according to front-line workers. "Let's say you set up a hair-braiding business and you do it one hour a week, you are good," said Vos, the state lawmaker from Racine. In November - more than a month after the Journal Sentinel first began asking the state about oversight of Wisconsin Shares - the Department of Children and Families published a new child-care policy manual spelling out how counties should verify employment. It detailed requirements that employers must have federal tax identification numbers and carry worker's compensation, along with other provisions. Yet in December, Brown, Kenosha and Dane counties said they were unaware of the new regulations and had not been following them. "I don't have a clue about that," said Sara Shackleton, associate division manager for economic support with Dane County, when asked about two of the new requirements. Shackleton retired in December.