Suffolk to reduce parent fees in its child care program

Steve Bellone reflects on his first year in

Steve Bellone reflects on his first year in office as Suffolk County Executive. Bellone was interviewed at his office in Hauppauge. (Jan. 2, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

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Suffolk's Department of Social Services is reducing the amount some 300 low-income parents have to pay out-of-pocket for child care coverage, because of an increase in state funding.

On Friday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the county was cutting the fees parents contribute to the child care program by 10 percent, saving families an average of $583 a year.

There are some 4,500 Suffolk children enrolled in the county's child care program, which was enacted in the 1990s as part of sweeping federal welfare reforms. The program, funded primarily by the state, aims to keep low-income parents employed by helping them pay for a portion of their child care expenses.

Currently the "parent fee" for a family of four is $66 a week, which would decrease to $44 under the fee change that takes effect on March 1, according to county figures. County officials said the reduced fees will be offset partly by a $1 million increase in state funding provided to Suffolk in June.

Bellone said the adjusted fees "will allow working parents to keep a little more of their hard-earned monies in their pockets, which will allow for more food on the table, fuel for transportation and other daily necessities."

Child care advocates, who have long sought a reduction in the fees, lauded the move, noting that most parents enrolled in the program are below or just above the federal poverty line. The income for a family of four cannot exceed $35,325 to be eligible for the program, but local studies have shown a family of four would need at least $85,000 annually to be self-sufficient.

"This is an economic development issue," said Janet Walerstein, executive director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk, a child advocacy group. "It means several hundreds of dollars will be back in the pockets of parents. That money goes back into the Long Island economy for food, for gas, for medicine at the local drugstore; these families will be able to put that money back into the economy."

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