For some Lincoln families, finding — and paying for — quality child care should get a bit easier.
Child care advocates have created a fund through the Lincoln Community Foundation that was two years in the making, an effort to close the gap between state subsidies and working families that can’t afford the steep cost of quality child care.
Called the Lincoln Littles Early Childcare Fund, the initiative is a partnership of the Lincoln Community Foundation and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation that will offer tuition assistance to families through qualifying child care providers in Lincoln.
The fund got $750,000 in seed money from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and the Kellogg Foundation. Several other organizations also have donated, and advocates hope to raise at least $1 million in the first of what will become an annual giving day.
They’ve chosen Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
“The whole vision is that every single person in Lincoln will have the opportunity to reach their hopes and dreams,” said Michelle Suarez, who heads the early childhood education arm of Prosper Lincoln.
“Childhood really sets the tone for one’s life. Research tells us all future behavior and health starts in childhood. We want children to have opportunities to build those foundations for future growth.”
Figuring out how to make that vision a reality is challenging: Lincoln Public Schools has a waiting list of 750 children for its early childhood education programs.
About 78 percent of children live in homes where both parents work — and child care costs an average of $1,000 a month for infants and almost as much for toddlers, Suarez said.
That means putting an infant in child care full-time costs more than sending a freshman to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This year, the annual estimated in-state tuition and fees for 15 credit hours a semester at UNL was $9,246.
Families that live at or below the federal poverty level — $25,750 for a family of four — are eligible for subsidies that cover all child care costs.
Subsidies pay a portion of child care costs for families living at up to 130 percent of the poverty level — $32,628 for a family of four.
The Lincoln Littles fund would help families who make up to 200 percent of the poverty level, or $51,500 for a family of four.
Betty Medinger, senior vice president for the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, used to administer the state program, so she knows how it plays out. Families face dilemmas like this: Do they risk accepting a raise at their job and losing the subsidies?
State subsidies for an infant currently total $11,180.
“The whole point of this is to fill gaps the state subsidy doesn’t cover,” Medinger said. “Nationally, our state has a pretty low threshold for families ... so we are pretty well restricted to the poorest of the poor for child care subsidies. This helps working families with a little assistance for a little longer.”
The fund is set up with another goal in mind: to expand quality child care in Lincoln.
“This is about building capacity and building quality in the community,” said Barb Bartle, president of the Lincoln Community Foundation. “That should have a huge impact for kids.”
The tuition assistance will be funneled through child care centers, including nonprofit, for-profit, home- and center-based businesses.
Child care businesses will be eligible if they are at step 2 or higher on the state education department’s “Step Up for Quality” rating system and serve at least one child from a low-income family receiving child care subsidies.
The education department’s five-step rating system offers training and resources to interested child care businesses. Step 2 means those businesses have completed some training, among other things.
Bartle said she hopes the fund will not only help families but will encourage churches or entrepreneurs to start child care centers — or encourage existing businesses to expand.
Another goal: to encourage more businesses to join the state’s rating system and work through the steps designed to ensure quality. After the Littles program gets underway, eligibility will change to higher steps on the system, Bartle said.
Just how many families will get assistance remains to be seen, say organizers. But Bartle said she knows Lincoln is a generous community, because she often gets questions about how people can help those in need.
This is one way, she said.
“I don’t want anyone’s mind to get stuck on a million dollars. I hope we go way past a million.”
For more than two decades, shivering residents of Lincoln could point to history to help them make it through the coldest days of winter.
Temperatures always make it above zero here. The streak dates nearly 23 years, to Feb. 2, 1996, the last day of all minus signs.
But Wednesday presented a challenge for thermometers locally (and anyone who had to spend time outside). From an overnight low of minus 9 degrees at the Lincoln Airport at 5:59 a.m., it climbed — slowly. Minus 7 at 8 o'clock, minus 4 at 11 a.m., minus 2 — with snow falling — at 1 in the afternoon.
By 3 p.m., the streak was safe. Zero.
The cold weather caused officials to cancel classes at K-12 schools in Lincoln, even suspended mail service locally, but the bottom-line wind chill of minus 28 at 3:54 a.m. was balmy when compared with other parts of the country.
Wind chills made it feel like minus 50 in those areas.
Without the wind factored in, Chicago dropped to minus 23, slightly warmer than the city's lowest-ever reading of minus 27 in January 1985. Minneapolis recorded minus 27. It got down to minus 25 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The good news is that the cold air is short-lived. Temperatures in Lincoln will soar over the next several days, with the high approaching 27 Thursday, 44 Friday, 49 Saturday and 55 on Sunday.
The normal high in Lincoln this time of year is 37.
At least eight deaths nationwide were linked to cold temperatures, including an elderly Illinois man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home, and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn, the Associated Press reported.
Elsewhere, a man was struck by a snowplow in the Chicago area, a young couple's SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man froze to death in a garage, authorities said.
The bitter cold was the result of a split in the polar vortex, a mass of cold air that normally stays bottled up in the Arctic. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual.
Fargo, North Dakota, dropped Wednesday to minus 31 degrees (without factoring the wind). In Antarctica, the balmy forecast at the South Pole Station was minus 25.
The freezing weather made it difficult for anyone hoping to escape to warmer conditions.
FlightAware said the weather forced the cancellation of more than 2,700 flights nationwide Wednesday, including the bulk of flights from Chicago's two main airports, O'Hare International and Midway.
Those cancellations had a ripple effect, wiping out flights at the Lincoln Airport and Eppley Airfield in Omaha.
Train traffic was also disrupted, including Amtrak lines to and from the Chicago area. Chicago commuter trains that rely on electricity were also shut down after the metal wires that provide their power contracted, throwing off connections.
Minnesota transportation officials said some snowplows were experiencing mechanical problems because of subzero temperatures, so officials decided to idle plows for several hours.
The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery in parts or all of several Midwest states.
CHICAGO — Faced with an aging American workforce, companies are increasingly navigating delicate conversations with employees grappling with cognitive declines, experts say.
Workers experiencing early stages of dementia may struggle with tasks they had completed without difficulty. Historically punctual employees may forget about scheduled meetings. And those who have traveled to the same office day after day, sometimes for years on end, may begin to lose their way during their morning commutes.
"I've talked to a number of families where a person didn't realize they had the disease and they didn't know what was going on. And they got fired for performance issues before anyone knew what the diagnosis was," says Ruth Drew, the director of information and support services at the nonprofit Alzheimer's Association. Drew also oversees the organization's 24-hour help hotline.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of U.S. workers between the ages of 65 and 74 will balloon 55 percent between 2014 and 2024, with 86 percent growth for the working population over 75.
It's that 65-and-up age group that's most likely to face dementia diagnoses, though early-onset symptoms can afflict younger people. And even though studies show the rate of dementia diagnoses has actually fallen in recent years, the sheer number of older U.S. workers expected to remain in the workforce has increasingly left employees and employers wrestling with the prospect of dementia in the office.
"And it's not just managing missed deadlines. It's about managing their frustration with everything that's changing," says Sarah Wood, director of global work-life services at Workplace Options, a North Carolina-based consultation and training organization. "If this person has been a dependable employee for 40 years and is now missing meetings, they'll be beating themselves up over this."
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which guarantees certain rights and workplace accommodation, covers individuals with Alzheimer's diagnoses and certain other forms of dementia depending on the employee's position and level of impairment.
"The trick is figuring out what tasks they can still perform and what they can still do safely to continue to contribute," Wood says.
Possible accommodations might include issuing written instructions rather than verbal commands, or reassigning a heavy machine operator or employee to a desk job, says David Fram, director of Americans with Disabilities Act and equal-opportunity services at the nonprofit National Employment Law Institute. He notes that employers cannot simply fire an employee solely because of a disability or dementia diagnosis if that person can still perform certain job requirements.
"The next question is whether they're qualified for their job. And that's the tougher point, depending on how advanced (the dementia) is," he says. "People have to do the essential functions of the job."
This creates a delicate balance between employer and employee. For some, disclosing dementia to an employer could open the door to workplace adjustments. For others, there's fear of stigmatization or even termination.
Mike Belleville, 57, a former telecommunications technician at Verizon now living in Bellingham, Mass., was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2012.
He said receiving his diagnosis "was almost like, 'Hey, here's what's wrong with me. And here's the reason why I've been messing up.'"
Belleville says his "aha" moment came when his performance began to slip and younger colleagues he initially trained began coaching him through his job.
He says he wouldn't have had access to certain benefits such as short-term disability insurance had he not fully disclosed his condition to his employer. His supervisors eventually scaled back his hours and reduced his workload, allowing him to work several months with a regular salary before going on disability leave.
"If you're driving a semi cross-country and you keep getting lost, OK, you shouldn't be doing that. But could you work in the loading dock? Could you have a desk job? What are the ways we can accommodate people so that they can continue contributing meaningfully to society?" asks Al Power, an internist and geriatrician who has extensively researched and written about dementia.
After initially being misdiagnosed, Mary Radnofsky, 60 and a former professor now living in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, learned she had a rare form of leukoencephalopathy, which caused minor strokes, seizures and cognitive impairment.
Her worsening condition led her to step away from her teaching career at the University of Hawaii in 2011, even before her official diagnosis.
"Apparently I 'looked' healthy both on paper and in person, had a very good education, and was 'too young' to have dementia," she says.