Some Suffolk County families struggling to pay for child care can breathe a little easier.
The county's Child Care Subsidy Program has been expanded to help offset the high cost of care for an additional 750 children from low-income families, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference in Hauppauge Thursday.
The income eligibility level for the program has been raised from 175% to 200% of the poverty level. For a family of two with one adult and one child, the annual gross income threshold to qualify for the subsidy moves from $29,593 to $33,820. For a family of four, it moves from $45,063 to $51,500.
The federal poverty level varies depending on family size but is the same in all states except Alaska and Hawaii. It is $16,910 for a family of two and $25,750 for a family of four.
Families in the subsidy program pay a percentage of the cost of care determined on a sliding scale based on their income.
"We're living in a region that we know is a high cost region ... for families who are struggling to make ends meet, struggling to get by, the biggest obstacle for them oftentimes is access to affordable, quality child care," Bellone said.
"Child care remains a critical issue for us on Long Island. We are doing everything we can to help these families and know we need to do more."
He said funds for the expansion of the $35.5 million subsidy program are available through the county’s state-funded Child Care Block Grant and come at no additional expense to taxpayers.
Parents in New York State spend a higher percentage of their income on care than those in any other state, according to Child Care Aware of America, an Arlington, Virginia, nonprofit.
The average cost of infant care in New York is $15,028 a year, or $1,252 a month, according to the group. Care for an infant and a 4-year-old averages $27,092 or $2,257 a month.
Advocates for affordable child care and day care center owners said they're pleased with the expansion.
"We work with thousands of families every year and we hear firsthand how hard it is for families to afford and find quality child care so this will go a long way in helping us move forward," said Jennifer Marino Rojas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk Inc.
Alicia Marks, owner of Marks of Excellence, an Amityville child care center where more than 90% of children receive subsidized care, said the expansion of Suffolk's subsidy program will open more doors for parents in need of affordable, quality care for their children.
As more parents become eligible for the subsidy and can afford to enroll their children in licensed day care centers, the number of "underground day cares" will also decrease, Marks said.
"This will give those parents the peace of mind of knowing their children are being taught and cared for in a safe environment," she said.
CORRECTION: The cost for child care for an infant and a 4-year-old averages $27,092 a year. Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story included an incorrect total.