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Astorino Seeks Subsidized Child Care Co-Pay Raise

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester announced a 15 percent increase in co-payments for subsidized child care Thursday, which County Executive Robert Astorino’s Republican administration called an “emergency” step designed to keep the non-mandated Title XX program afloat past July.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Kevin McGuire said a second child care subsidy program for families earning between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level will go bankrupt by October if parents are not asked to contribute more.

“The process to change the family contribution level will take about 60 to 90 days. The sooner we get the higher contribution levels, the better chance we have to maintain the program for the full year because when the money runs out, the program has to stop,” McGuire said in a press release.

Astorino and McGuire requested that families contribute 35 percent of the difference between their income and the federal poverty level instead of the 15 percent parents paid in 2011, while drafting the 2012 to 2013 budget . The county executive vetoed the 20 percent co-payment legislators wrote into the budget. However, an override by predominately-Democratic lawmakers reinstated funding to keep parents’ shares down to 20 percent.

Now, Astorino’s office has asked the state for permission to reinstate the 35 percent contribution rate and cap the Title XX program slots to the 206 now filled.

“You can’t run programs on good intentions; you need sufficient appropriations,” Astorino said in a statement. ”You have to look at the alternatives: asking families to pay about $6 dollars a day more for about eight months or having the families pay 100 percent of the family day care bill starting in August. The whole philosophy here is to adjust payments in order to protect the long-term viability of the program.”

Democratic lawmakers, including Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) , said the administration's decision was “very disappointing.” As chair of the community service committee, Williams has requested that the department of social services explore funding shifts that may allow co-payments to be lowered.

“We overrode the veto and put the money and if there was a question about whether or not there was enough money, that discussion should have been raised before,” said Williams. “Saying that it only represents a $6 increase a day just maximizes the administration's lack of understanding about how poor people have to manage their money.”

Williams said $30 a week will be unaffordable for many earning minimum wages, which she worries may push some families to turn towards unsafe child care providers.

The increase will be hard for low-income families and daycare providers alike, according to Kathy Halas, the executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester.

“Anytime the co-pay changes it means a lot of administrative work for the county and it’s hard for providers to figure out a profit model, to say nothing of the havoc it wreaks on families’ incomes,” Halas said. “There may not be the money to do everything we’d like to do. The people on child care subsidies who are at the lower end of the economic continuum already saw their fees go up so they took that hit. Why does the administration keep going back to childcare, maybe there’s something else they could look at like raising golf fees?”

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