Editorial: Long Island needs more child-care funding

Child care providers, parents, children and others gather Child care providers, parents, children and others gather for a rally at the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge, to protest Suffolk County's cuts to child care subsidies. (Aug. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Hundreds of families who had managed to scrape by, with the help of child care subsidies, now have to do without them. That scenario is particularly egregious in Suffolk County, where cuts in state funding have come at the same time as increases in the demand for child care. And in Nassau, the county is cutting back total spending on this vital service, because state help hasn't been growing fast enough to keep up with the need.

In light of the hardship for these families -- and other economic results, such as layoffs by those who have been providing this care -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should take a closer look at the impact of his administration's reduced aid. He should do what he can to fix it in the 2013-14 budget that he will present in just a few weeks.

In this economy, many families need two incomes, which makes child care indispensable. As recently as last year, Suffolk's Department of Social Services had provided a subsidy to families making up to 200 percent of the totally inadequate federal poverty level of $23,050 for a family of four. On costly Long Island, economists argue, a family of four needs an income of $75,000 a year to get by without help.

Last June, the governor's Office of Children and Family Services announced a cut of $143,000 in Suffolk's block grant, which had already been cut by more than $3 million from 2009 to 2011. The county, with tough budget issues of its own, couldn't make up the difference. That pushed another 1,200 children out of subsidized care.

Though the county's Department of Social Services does not have statistics on what those families are doing instead, there are anecdotal reports. Some are scrambling for alternate arrangements, which may be unlicensed and substandard. In some cases, families have simply had to give up a second income so that one parent can remain at home with the children. Some have reduced their income, so they'd make little enough to qualify for the child care. And some single-parent families may end up on the welfare rolls.

The cut has also meant layoffs at licensed day care centers. The Welfare to Work Commission -- created by the Suffolk County Legislature to advise lawmakers on policies affecting people on welfare, leaving welfare or at risk of needing welfare -- did a survey of child-care facilities. The nine that responded reported 64 layoffs, and the commission estimated that the total layoffs could reach 400.

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For years, Nassau has been covering families making more money: 275 percent of the federal poverty level. Now, because the state's support hasn't kept pace with rising costs, Nassau will subsidize only families making up to 200 percent of the poverty level. That's a less drastic belt-tightening than Suffolk's, but families will feel the pinch.

What to do? A more predictable formula would be a good start. Suffolk wants one that allows the county to help families who earn up to 150 percent of the poverty level.

The governor has done a lot to make New York more efficient and fiscally responsible. But in this case, his administration has ended up hurting children, and he has to figure out a way to undo, or at least minimize, that damage.

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