Suffolk panel urges more child care funding

Preschool students from the Habitots Preschool & Child

Preschool students from the Habitots Preschool & Child Care Center in Medford dance during a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge Monday, June 23, 2014. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

A commission on social services and poverty issues Monday urged Suffolk County and New York State to boost funding for child care and pre-K programs for low-income children.

Suffolk's Welfare to Work Commission, which reports to the county legislature, released an 87-page report on the child care issue, based on testimony from more than 100 parents and education experts at public hearings throughout the county over the past 10 months.

"Our report's central conclusion is that quality child care and early learning cannot be achieved without a significant increase to support such programs," Richard Koubek, commission chairman, said at a news conference in Hauppauge.


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The commission wants the county and state to increase child care funding to $40 million, compared to the current $34.4 million. The program, part of sweeping federal welfare reforms enacted in the 1990s, was designed to help low-income parents remain in the workforce by paying a portion of their day care costs.

In late 2011 and in 2012, Suffolk dropped about 2,000 children from the program after federal economic stimulus money that had been used to bolster the program ran out.

Suffolk County added more than half of those children back over the past year, but the report argues that more money is needed to restore the remaining children to the program.

"Unless changes are made, we are leaving many children to chance," said Kathy Liguori, vice chairwoman of the commission and operator of two day care centers.

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that Suffolk would use an extra $581,000 in state funding received this year to boost the program's enrollment by about 400 children.

Beginning July 1, the county will broaden eligibility by raising the income level to qualify for the program from 150 percent of the federal poverty line to 165 percent, Bellone said.

Commission members say the income standard should be 200 percent, given the region's high cost of living compared to other parts of the state. That would mean a family of four making up to $47,100 would be eligible for the program.

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the county contributed $3.5 million toward the program in 2013-14.The report also calls on Suffolk to create a Child Care and Early Learning Commission to propose early education initiatives to the county legislature.

Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), chairwoman of the legislature's Human Services Committee, who previously worked as a high school social studies teacher and middle school assistant principal, said it was "imperative to provide early education for our children."

The commission also called on Suffolk to create a trust fund for corporations and philanthropists to donate to early education initiatives. The Suffolk County Children's Trust Fund would seek donations to "address some of the unmet needs of preschool children."

The commission held 11 focus groups with working parents in November and two public hearings in December to gather input from families and day care providers.

Koubek said the commission plans to present the report to legislative committees next month.

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