Westchester Dems sue Astorino again in day care battle

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks at a Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks at a news conference in this file photo. (June 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Susan Stava

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Democrats on the Westchester County Board of Legislators are going to court again in their battle with County Executive Rob Astorino over funding for government-subsidized low-income child day care programs.

A lawsuit filed Friday in Westchester County Court in White Plains seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction requiring the county Department of Social Services to resume processing applications for low-income child day care and to tap into surplus relief funds to cover any shortfall.

The suit names Astorino, county Social Services Director Kevin McGuire and county Budget Director Lawrence Soule.

The DSS stopped processing low-income day care applications for low-income working families after Sept. 18, citing a lack of money. But the suit alleges that the DSS has $7.5 million in untapped funds in its budget . The suit seeks to force the county to transfer as much as needed to continue processing applications through year's end.

The DSS cap on applications means many working mothers "will have to stop working to care for their children," the suit alleges.

The lawsuit is the latest legal salvo in the ongoing day care fight. In June, Democrats sued to block Astorino from a planned increase in the family contribution to low-income day care from 20 percent to 35 percent. On Aug. 20, State Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary threw out that suit. The increase is to take effect Nov. 1; Democrats are appealing Neary's ruling.

On average, the hike will cost low-income families an additional $120 a month, a move Democrats fear could jeopardize some children's safety by forcing them into unlicensed facilities.

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Astorino, a Republican, defends the increase, saying funding for day-care subsidies and other programs for low-income families is running out.

Democratic legislative spokesman Tom Staudter said Friday's action shows the Democratic majority "is really standing up to protect working parents here in Westchester. Working parents are a part of the Westchester community as well as the affluent people who live here. ... They're not asking for a handout, they're asking for a hand up.

"The money's there," Staudter said. Of the applications cutoff, he said, "This looks more like a decision made out of spite than a decision made out of financial certitude."

Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack said the Democrats "are taking a forecast number and calling it a reserve." He said the county's day care program is actually $4 million in the red for this year and that capping the number of slots through the end of the year is necessary to keep it afloat.

McCormack blamed the Democrats for the shortfall, saying the majority failed to appropriate adequate funding for the low-income day care line item in this year's budget.

"We're out of money this year," McCormack said. "We're struggling with some bad alternatives here but we think this is the best alternative."

Both sides said they expect to be back in court on Monday in the suit.

Legislative Republicans were not immediately available for comment.

Democrats hold a 10-7 majority on the county board.

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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