Westchester judge halts changes to low-income child care program

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks during a Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks during a public hearing regarding the new Tappan Zee Bridge at the Marriott in Tarrytown. (March 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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A Westchester County Court judge has granted Democratic lawmakers' request to block County Executive Rob Astorino's plans to increase the family contributions for government-subsidized low-income child care programs.

On Monday, County Judge James Hubart granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction requiring the county's 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 move was in response to a lawsuit filed by Democrats on Friday.

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The county's DSS stopped processing low-income day care applications for 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 money as needed to continue processing applications through year's end.

Hubart's action will prevent the increases from going into effect until the court rules on the overall complaint.

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

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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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