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Parents: Proposed Day Care Increase Unaffordable

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Tatmafa Pemagbi, 26, of Mount Vernon, describes herself as a "single parent" whose employment is in danger if County Executive Robert Astorino's proposal to increase the rates at which parents contribute to county-subsidized day care remains in the 2012 county budget.

"It would be terrible for me. I can't afford it," said Pemagbi, who works as receptionist in Manhattan. "If my job allows me to be with my daughter at the job, I would take her with me. Otherwise, I have nobody to help.”

Under Astorino’s preliminary budget , families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level that are eligible for the county’s child day care subsidies program will be asked to pay 35 percent of the difference between their income and the poverty level instead of the 15 percent parents currently pay.

The contribution hike would mean a single parent earning $28,000 would see his or her annual day care payment more than double from $1,993.50 to $4,651.50, according to figures from the Child Care Council of Westchester.

“If you’re a single mother trying to live on $28,000 a year, you already don’t have enough money to live here and now we’re talking about a co-pay of $4,600. That’s 16 percent of their gross income,” said Kathy Halas, the executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester. “There is a sentiment in this county that you should do it for yourself. Valuing accountability and working hard are incredibly important, but I think everybody deserves help. Wealthy people get it in the tax code, and these people really want to work.”

It would be “very difficult” for Malika Mayhew, 29, of Yonkers, to continue working as a teaching assistant if her share of the day care bill increases.

“Either you’re going to pay your day care bill or you’re going to pay rent. If you don’t pay your day care bill, they won’t watch your kids. Then how can you work?” said Mayhew, who has two daughters. “During the recession they should be trying to create jobs, not take them away. I’m trying to work and they’re making it very difficult."

Past co-payment increases have cost the county as well as Westchester families, according to county Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), who says Democratic lawmakers are looking to lower Astorino’s suggested contribution rate.

“We’d like to see it stay at what it was, but we’re willing to look at some change,” said Williams. “Our experience has found that basically when the cost of day care increases, people initially move to unregulated daycare. Then if that doesn’t work, they end up losing their jobs, which then increases the pressure on the county in terms of mandated services or public assistance.”

The county executive’s Republican administration thinks raising the rate will allow the county to offer 631 more subsidized day care slots than the 2,045 now available, according to Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino.

“Our philosophy has been to stretch the money so that we can reach as many families as possible,” said McCormack. “By increasing the share, we’re able to extend the subsidy to an extra 631 families.”

The county budget must be finalized by Dec. 27.

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