Lawsuit raising child care family contributions tossed

Children do handicrafts at a day care center Children do handicrafts at a day care center for children in this file photo. (Dec. 22, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A state Supreme Court judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by Democratic legislators against Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in an attempt to reverse Astorino's decision to increase family contributions for the county's child care programs.

The decision by Justice Robert Neary effectively gives the county permission to increase the family contribution levels for low-income child care programs from 20 percent to 35 percent.

Neary lifted a temporary injunction that had held back the increase. Democrats say they will appeal the ruling.

Neary granted Astorino's motion to dismiss the suit, which had been filed by the county Legislature's chairman, Ken Jenkins, and several other Democrats on the board.

At issue was Astorino's drive to make families kick in an additional $120 a month -- on average -- a move Democrats say would create a hardship for many poor families and endanger the safety of youngsters forced into unlicensed settings.

Ned McCormack, Astorino's spokesman, said the ruling "fully vindicates the county executive's position on child care."

"These decisions are not easy," McCormack said. "Nobody wants to see the share increase, but when programs are running out of money, you have to act. It was an unfortunate, but necessary step to ensure the solvency of the program."

Jenkins said Monday night the ruling will affect the county's most vulnerable residents, and vowed to appeal it.

"Judge Neary's decision will hurt thousands of low-income Westchester residents, many of them single mothers working hard to make a better life for themselves and their children," the Yonkers Democrat said in a statement. "It's important to keep fighting for the people of this county who need our support, and so we will."

Astorino, a Republican, has argued that the increases are needed because funding available for day care subsidies and other programs for low-income families is dwindling. Officials had suggested the funding could run out before the fall.

Astorino and Democrats on the board have been feuding over the day care subsidies since he took office in 2010.

Last month, Republican legislators broke ranks with Astorino and offered to broker a compromise between the Democrats and the executive branch, but the Democrats dismissed the proposal. County officials said they were open to adjusting contribution levels, but said the Legislature needed to come up with a plan to compensate for the loss of revenue.

More than 3,500 children participate in the county's day care programs, which cost an estimated $30 million a year to operate. About 75 percent of the funding comes from the federal government.

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