Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission chairman Richard Koubek.

Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission chairman Richard Koubek. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission wants a company's child care practices to be among the criteria used by the county's Industrial Development Agency in weighing applications for tax breaks.

The IDA already looks at the amount of goods and services an applicant purchases within the county, along with employment and investment commitments, when considering giving breaks on property taxes, sales tax and the mortgage recording tax.

Commission members said Tuesday that Suffolk's lack of quality child care boosts employee absenteeism and hurts productivity. Workers also change jobs more frequently.

The members called for additional government funding and private-sector subsidies and donations.

"We want the IDA to consider what a company is doing to provide child care before giving them tax breaks," commission chairman Richard Koubek told business executives and government officials during an economic development summit at Stony Brook University.

Koubek said the average working parent in the United States misses five to nine days of work per year because of a sick child or other care problems. This absenteeism costs employers about $3 billion per year.

He cited the commission's 2014 study that found there were 226,000 children under age 5 with working parents on Long Island. However, there were only about 62,000 spaces at licensed child-care providers and universal pre-K programs.

These services are also expensive: typically $27,000 per year for two children, or 16 percent of the average household income on the Island. That's 6 percentage points higher than what is recommended by New York State.

"Many Suffolk parents are forced to place their children in lower-cost programs, lower-quality programs and sometimes, illegal and potentially dangerous programs," Koubek said.

He and commission vice chair Kathy Liguori, who owns HabiTots day care in Middle Island, suggested in an interview that the IDA consider whether applicants subsidize child care for their low-wage employees or donate supplies and playground equipment to child-care providers in exchange for discounted tuition for employees' children.

The commission plans in the coming weeks to begin formal talks with the IDA.

Anthony J. Catapano, the IDA's executive director, said, "This is something to think about and to explore."

Venture capitalist David L. Calone, who leads the Suffolk County Planning Commission, endorsed child care as a criterion for awarding tax breaks.

"This is a way that we can raise the issue, particularly with small employers," he said. "Employers should also consider whether flexible work schedules and allowing people to work from home might address employees' child-care issues."

Child care was one of many topics discussed at Tuesday's "Economic Gardening" conference, organized by the Planning Commission. The event drew about 75 people.

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