Day Care Subsidy Impacts Westchester

child-care-council-of-westchester-logoLike many single parents in Westchester County, Wendy Urbima, 25, works to provide for her daughter, Priscilla, who is 3 years old. Urbina currently struggles to pay bills and the Sleepy Hollow resident is expecting to pay even more to keep her daughter in day care.

“I might need to leave my job and go on welfare to spend time caring for my daughter,” Urbima said. “I wouldn’t feel safe… no education would be available to provide the social environment she would need for the future.”

Working parents like Urbima who currently receive financial assistance from the county’s Department of Social Services Child Day Care Subsidy Program are expecting to pay more this November, when a 15 percent increase in family contribution costs will go into effect. The childcare subsidies, which were designed to make day care program- ming affordable in Westchester County, now require self-sufficient parents pay almost double what they have in the past based on their weekly income. But according to Executive Director of the Harrison Children Center Debbie Imperia, families in the Town of Harrison that currently earn between $7 and $15 an hour will no longer be eligible for assistance.

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 5, 2012 edition of the Harrison Review

“The county keeps cutting more and more funding from early child care [assistance] for low income families unable to afford it,” Imperia said.

The increase, authorized by the administration of Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, will require families currently contributing 20 percent of their weekly pay exceeding twice the federal poverty line to 35 percent. In addition, this will cap the availability of the program to 206 families in the county.

But according to Imperia, the inflated cost requirement is expected to displace 10 families currently afford it. Kiddie Korner of Westchester Corp. in New Rochelle has already experienced issues with their programming. Last year, the day care facility cut classroom sizes and teachers’ hours, said owner/ President Gale Deraffele.

“Things have not gotten any better… parents who can’t pay the fees are not going to be able to work,” Deraffele said. “I’ve been here 26 years and I have never seen anything like this.”

According to Deraffele, out of the 14 children on the subsidy program, she expects at least half will no longer be able to attend day care because their parents will not bee able to afford the services.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Deraffele said.

Kathy Halas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester, explained by nearly doubling the family contribution rate, the county will, in the short- run, infringe on the ability of low-income and working-class families to afford day care services and may lead some parents to cut back on work hours for their children.

“In the long run, we are going to see even larger vacancies that will threaten the financial survival of child care services,” Halas said. “These programs are very dependent on families who traditionally can obtain them.”

While there has been extensive job growth in the past year, Halas has made the argument that it doesn’t necessarily cover the cost of child care. Parents would need to make anywhere from $26 to $30 an hour in order to pay for services.

“This will destabilize and under- cut child care services throughout the county,” Halas added.

Last February, the county Department of Social Services requested an increase to 20 percent contribution rates due to a lack of funding for child care programs.

According to the the county executive’s senior advisor Ned McCormick, the funding for child services is roughly $4 million short due to a gap in the current budget. McCormick added that the 35 percent rate would bring Westchester County up to par with New York City child care subsidies as well as 20 other counties in the state.

“The county currently spends $8,700 per child, which is more than we pay for students at the college level,” McCormick said. “This cost is unsustainable and needs to be funded by more affordable means.”

However, recent dissent from the County Board of Legislators argues otherwise. On Aug. 20, county courts ruled to uphold the increase proposed by Astorino, inciting an appeal from the county legislators who had adopted legislation to keep the rate at 20 percent.

“The Astorino Administration broke the law when they withheld departmental requests from the Board of Legislators during the budget process,” said Legislative Chair Ken Jenkins, a Democrat. “We now know those omissions caused a $30 million operating deficit for 2012.”

According to Jenkins, the Department of Social Services was provided enough money for services and additionally projected a $7.2 million surplus.

In response to the recent court ruling, the county Board of Legislators has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, which will be heard on Oct. 17 by Justice Robert A. Neary.

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