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Study: LI costliest region in state for families

A young man enjoying the water. (July 4,

A young man enjoying the water. (July 4, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Long Island is the most expensive region in New York State to raise a family, with steep taxes and child care pushing the cost of necessities to more than $100,000 a year for some families with three children, according to a report commissioned by advocates for the poor to be released Tuesday.

The report, known as the Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York State 2010, looked at the average cost of basic needs for families of 70 different sizes in each county and computed a wage that would make each family "self-sufficient" - able to pay bills without family or government support.

The study's author and the Long Island groups that commissioned it said the report should redefine what poverty means to both the public and the federal government. Currently, the Federal Poverty Level is about $18,000 annually for a single parent with two children, a figure used across the country to determine eligibility for programs such as welfare, Medicaid and food stamps.

But on Long Island, a single parent of two young children needs up to $86,000 annually, while a two-parent household with three preteen children requires more than $113,000 to meet average housing, taxes, food, child care, health care and transportation costs, the self-sufficiency report said.

The costs go down dramatically for families with teenagers because they don't require child care. A single parent with two teenage children has at least $46,000 in annual costs, while two parents with three teenagers have more than $64,000 on Long Island, according to the report.

"This is a real bare-bones level of getting by. The food budget doesn't have any restaurant or takeout factored in," said the report's author, Diana Pearce, director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington's School of Social Work in Seattle.

Only lower Manhattan - which was singled out in the report - had higher costs than Long Island.

The report was commissioned by several nonprofit anti-poverty groups, including the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island and the Empire Justice Center in Central Islip. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) is expected to join the groups Tuesday at a news conference in Commack.

Israel said Monday the report should have implications for federal tax policy and poverty program benefits. "I hope President Obama reads this report," he said.

The advocates say the current system of government assistance denies benefits to struggling Long Islanders whose incomes are inadequate for Nassau and Suffolk, but too high for federal poverty guidelines.

Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, said the federal government should try to develop a more flexible poverty formula. "The problem on Long Island is the federal poverty level lets a lot of people slip through the cracks," she said.

Created in 1963, the federal poverty level formula assumes that a family spends a third of its money on food, develops a budget based on minimum needed calories and average food prices, and multiplies by three.

Officials with the U.S. Census Bureau, which determines the federal poverty level, could not be reached.

While the federal poverty level is not adjusted by region, benefits are different from state to state because each devotes varying amounts of local money.

In Suffolk and Nassau, food now makes up about 10 percent of the basic needs budget of a Long Island two-parent family with an infant, preschooler and school-age child, according to the self-sufficiency report. Taxes account for about 25 percent, housing 22 and child care about 30.


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