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Editorial: Westchester must get over its child-care impasse

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announces the 2013

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announces the 2013 county budget during a news conference in White Plains. (Nov. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

So many families across New York State who have managed to scrape by, with the help of subsidized child care, may have to do without it -- or pay a lot more for it.

That scenario is particularly troubling in Westchester County, where cuts in funding have come at the same time as demand increases.

Despite years of negotiations that have included several rounds in court, lawmakers haven't figured out a solution on the parental share, even though there's a reasonable approach on the table.

The Board of Legislators should hash out a compromise today during deliberations on a $1.7 billion budget that includes no tax increase.

While the holiday spirit has yet to descend on Democrats, Republicans and County Executive Rob Astorino on the budget, the day care dilemma must be settled now. The uncertainty for parents, workers and providers mustn't bleed into another year.

The county executive wants needy families to pay 35 percent in 2013, a 15 percent increase, as a way of saving roughly $8 million; the proposed jump represents about 25 percent more than these working families paid in 2009. Many of the affected parents earn too much to qualify for free care but not enough to cover the high cost on their own.

Democrats want to keep the rate at 20 percent for these parents. Republican legislators have offered a 27 percent compromise, which at a cost of about $4 million falls right in the middle of the two sides.

Any increase is a challenge to families, but for hundreds of working parents on the brink -- many earning around $30,000 to $40,000 -- the maximum rate translates into $50, $60 or even $100 more a week.

For too many people, especially single parents, these additional dollars mean the difference between food, clothing or even staying employed if the cost of care becomes prohibitive. In other cases, parents might opt for informal, but perhaps risky, alternatives like a neighbor or unlicensed operator to care for their children while they work.

Most of the county's programs for child care are funded through the state and federal government but the counties have to kick in a share. And Westchester is not alone in the struggle to balance budgets and provide care for its families in need; counties all across the state grapple with the dilemma.

The state's complicated formula doesn't help matters, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Legislature could do more to help. But the impasse now is of Westchester's own making. It's time to finally figure this out.

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