Impact of Suffolk child care cuts studied

Nicole Patterson, with three of her children (from

Nicole Patterson, with three of her children (from left), Dyamonte, 9, Natalya, 3, and Samuel, 5, outside their Shirley home. (Sept. 6, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein)

Several Suffolk child care advocates and business leaders are undertaking separate studies to determine the economic impact of nearly 1,200 children being cut from the county's child care program this year.

The efforts come as the start of the school year has revived concerns about securing before- and after-school care for hundreds of parents no longer receiving the state-backed stipends for child care. The program, a product of the federal welfare reforms enacted in the 1990s, helps defray the costs for low-income working families.

Those trying to collect data over the next few months -- including Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory J. Blass and the Child Care Council of Suffolk County -- are hoping the figures, which will include how many families have returned to welfare, will make the case to state leaders to hike funding. Last year the county received $29.2 million, a $600,000 cut from the previous year.

"It's imperative for the state to account for the increase in demand," Blass said.

Blass said the department is seeking to determine whether parents cut from the program end up in the welfare system, after hearing that several parents have left their jobs because they had no child care.

The department also plans to tally whether there's been a reduction in licensed child care providers, Blass said.

Kathy Ligouri, vice chairwoman of Suffolk's Welfare to Work Commission, a legislature-appointed committee, said she also has started trying to gauge the number of unemployed day care workers.

"This is having a far-reaching effect -- on children, on families, on small business owners -- but so far it's been anecdotal," Ligouri said.

Brian Lahiff, assistant director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk, an advocacy group, said the organization is also surveying child care providers to determine how their businesses have been impacted, and documenting how parents are coping with the cuts.

Kathleen Roche, executive director of Rainbow Chimes, a day care center in Huntington, said that after previous rounds of cuts in January and April, parents often told her they reduced their work hours or quit their jobs to meet the program's ever-changing income qualifications. But when the latest round of cuts in July was achieved by reducing the income eligibility to on or below the federal poverty line -- $23,050 for a family of four -- Roche said parents have been less willing to leave their jobs.

"The income is beyond-belief low; who can live on that type of money on Long Island, if these families are already struggling living above the poverty line?" said Roche.

Nicole Patterson, 35, of Shirley, has three children who were cut from the program. Patterson, who has worked as an office manager for the past eight years for $22,000 a year, is considering converting to a part-time job or working nights so that she can be home to care for her 3-year old daughter.

"If I go on public assistance, the whole time they want you to get a job, but I have a job, I feel like I'm going in circles," Patterson said.

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