Apples for Children risks having to close its doors this year because of state budget cuts, said Executive Director Fanny Crawford.
Half of the nonprofit organization's $800,000 annual budget comes from the Maryland Child Care Resource Network. The rest is dependent on that state grant.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cut the network's proposed 2004 budget from $5.8 million to $1.8 million, leaving Apples for Children and other programs statewide vulnerable to closure.
Crawford has been lobbying the Maryland General Assembly to help preserve the program.
Ultimately, it's up to Ehrlich to restore the funding because the Legislature doesn't have the power to add money to the budget.
Apples for Children has been serving Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties for more than a decade under various names, Crawford said. Its most well-known program is matching parents and regulated child-care providers.
The Hagerstown-based agency also provides training and support to child-care providers and helps businesses with child-care issues.
Charles Wainwright, director of the Surrey Child Care Center in Hagerstown, said there will be no other agencies to provide child-care training if Apples for Children shuts down.
"If they take away my training center, then I'm in a real bind. It's an invaluable resource," he said.
Crawford said the program is an important economic development tool. When large companies locate in the area, the nonprofit organization can help their employees find child care and train new providers to meet the extra demand, she said.
Child-care services are more in demand than ever because of welfare reform, she said.
A recent spate of snow days has also increased the workload at the agency as parents look for backup child care, she said.
Apples for Children serves an estimated 10,000 children a year in the three-county region, she said.
"It's an important program in the community and I think they make a good case for it," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.
Shank and his wife, Cindy, used the service recently while searching for child care for their 5-month-old son, Caleb.
Because of the state's budget crisis, Ehrlich won't likely be able to fund the program, especially if the Legislature doesn't approve the governor's plan to raise $395 million by installing 10,500 slot machines at four racetracks.
Shank said if state money dries up he hopes the agency can find an alternative source of funding, maybe through the private sector or through a fee-for-service plan.