SOUTH HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) — Open Arms Child Center in South Hutchinson is in danger of losing valuable funding. All because of zoning rules that have been on the books for years.

On Nov. 14, Owner and Operator Kelly Willis received a letter that said in 30 days, she would no longer qualify for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Child and Adult Care Food Program.

“To participate in the CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program) as a day care home, day care must be conducted in a private residence. Unfortunately, your facility does not qualify,” the letter said in part.

Willis has depended on the funds for nearly four years.

“I thought it was a joke. I thought they were just, you know, like candid camera or something,” Willis said.

CACFP provides reimbursements for children’s breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Willis said it covers roughly 75% of their food expense.

In 2019, she got into the program with no problem.

“They kind of questioned the building and checked in with USDA and KSDE (Kansas State Department of Education) to see if it would qualify, and they took pictures and made a determination that I was eligible,” she said.

A mistake from then, now putting Willis in a pickle. She has been talking with South Hutch to get rezoned from a commercial building.

“When I go to residential, it’ll lower that value. So I’m taking that loss. The City of South Hutch will take a loss on taxes rezoning me, but they are doing it because they want to see me stay here,” she said.

Even if rezoned, USDA program requirements state:

  • To participate in the CACFP as a day care home, day care must be conducted in a private residence. 
  • A residence may be either a single-family home or an individual apartment unit.
  • The residence does not have to be the provider’s residence as long as it is a private residence, and it does not have to be occupied other than for day care.
  • The State agency must be able to determine that the entire building meets all requirements for participation and has the “look and feel” of a residence, including the surrounding property.
  • Commercial properties including churches and schools are not private residences and are not eligible to participate in the CACFP as family day care homes.

“They still have not given me a clear definition of what a ‘look and feel’ is because that’s different for everybody,” Willis said.

Willis is unsure of what she will do if that doesn’t work.

“I really don’t know, and that’s scary,” she said.

The program funds run out on Dec. 15. Willis says if she loses it, she will not raise prices for families to cover the loss.