COLUMBIA - Issues with long wait times on the phone and at the offices of the Missouri Department of Family Services have cost recipients and child care providers thousands of dollars.
Childcare recipients claim wait times at the Boone Co. DFS office can last up to seven hours, and calls to their help line (1-800-FSD-INFO), 20 to 40 minutes.
Amy Todd gets state aid to put her three children, ages four, two and one, all in daycare. The four and two year olds attend Tiger Tots Early Learning, while the one year old is taken care of in a home day care setting.
Todd got smart and began showing up at 7:30 a.m., as soon as the doors opened, whenever she had to go to the DFS offices.
Sometimes, however, Todd doesn't have the time to show up at the offices right at 7:30. She says whenever she goes to the office at a different time, she loses around $60 worth of pay.
"To spend a whole day, in the welfare office, is unbelievable," Todd said. "If they want us to help ourselves, you'd think they'd be doing to help us move through there faster."
Paul Prevo, who owns Tiger Tots Early Learning in Columbia, says he hears of these issues all the time.
"One family I know of, they packed a picnic lunch to go wait at the office," Prevo said.
Prevo also said his Paris Road location for Tiger Tots has lost around $10,000 this year alone from extended wait times. He said he can't help but provide child care services for families, even if they are not sure if they will be able to pay for it.
Unfortunately for Prevo, sometimes families find out weeks after they submit their paperwork, that the department did not approve them for child care assistance.
"I see these moms come into my office and they literally cry because they can't get an answer," Prevo said. "I mean, it is heartbreaking to them because they're trying to do what's best for their kid and they can't get it done."
Prevo thinks putting the whole process online would save money and time.
"You're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income, because of paperwork," Prevo said. "So a simple software program to automate the process, pays for itself within a couple of short years."
To get a more accurate picture of how the Boone Co. DFS office works, KOMU 8 News paid a visit to the office to see how it was laid out and how it operated.
One woman said she had already been waiting 40 minutes to speak with a caseworker. She then said she "got lucky," that her wait would only last about three to four hours that day since the office wasn't too crowded. When asked if this was normal, she laughed and vigorously shook her head.
"Oh no," she said. "The other day, I came in here around 9 a.m. and didn't leave until 4 p.m., when they take their last appointment."
KOMU 8 News reached out to Department of Social Services' media contact, Rebecca Woelfel, for a comment on why wait times have become so long over the past year. She did not return several calls, but eventually sent an email, simply saying she was unavailable for an interview.