Suffolk County will add up to 700 children to its child care program this year, after dropping 2,000 children last year due to state budget cuts, County Executive Steve Bellone said Monday.
At a news conference during which he was joined by social service advocates and child care providers, Bellone said the county has expanded eligibility so more low-income parents can qualify for subsidies.
Families previously had to fall on or below the federal poverty line of $23,050 in annual income to qualify for aid.
Under Suffolk's new requirements, parents can make up to $28,813 -- 125 percent of the poverty line.
"This is something that is vital that we are doing in this county and that we need to continue to do, and that is to support working families and their kids," Bellone said.
Last year, state budget cuts and growing demand forced Suffolk to drop more than 2,000 children from the program by tightening eligibility requirements from 200 percent to 100 percent of the poverty line.
Acting Department of Social Services Commissioner John O'Neill said Monday that Suffolk is able to add more children this year because the county included $3.5 million in its budget to help pay for the program, and the state's $29 million in funding remained level with last year.
O'Neill said there also has been less growth in child care cases that the county must fund for residents who qualify for monthly public assistance subsidies, thereby freeing up additional money for the program.
Suffolk is facing a $250 million budget deficit through the end of 2014.
Michelle Walsh, 34, of Brentwood, said she welcomed the new criteria after losing aid for her son Jaiden, 4, to attend day care while she worked.
"It was a real stressful time," said Walsh, a teaching assistant at a local Head Start program. "There was no Plan B. Plan B was leaving the job to take care of my kid. Thankfully, this allows me the flexibility to work."
O'Neill said the changes went into effect April 1. The department projects it will be able to keep the 125 percent criteria through December 2014, he said.
Eligibility for parents of special-needs children will remain at double the poverty line, O'Neill said.