Social services advocates filed a federal lawsuit against Suffolk County Thursday in an effort to suspend the removal of hundreds of children from the state-subsidized child care program.
Since January, the county has dropped more than 1,200 children from the program that aimed to help low-income working parents pay for day care and after-school services.
In response, the Empire Justice Center and National Center for Law and Economic Justice, two nonprofit legal advocacy groups, filed the lawsuit.
Thursday night, more than 250 parents, child care providers, children and labor leaders rallied against the cuts outside the H. Lee Dennison County Executive Building in Hauppauge.
"We must keep parents earning and children learning to turn this economy around, not send working parents straight into the unemployment line," said Nick LaMorte, Long Island Region president of the CSEA, the union representing the county's child care providers, and the organizers behind the rally.
Social Services Commissioner Gregory J. Blass has said reduced enrollment is in response to cuts in state funding despite growing demand for the program spurred by the weak recession.
The suit contends that parents in the program were not given specific reasons why they were dropped and were therefore denied due process.
In at least one case, said Linda Hassberg, an attorney for the Empire Justice Center, a parent was able to determine that they were still eligible for the program despite receiving a termination notice.
Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said that while the county does not comment on pending litigation, the "county complied with the law."
A hearing is scheduled for July 26 in Central Islip's U.S. District Courthouse.
Among those rallying against the cuts was Aisha Stith, 20, a single mother who is trying to complete her nursing degree at Farmingdale State College while working a $350-a-week job helping developmentally disabled patients. The mother of a 2-year-old daughter said that without the help, she may have to give up her job, or schooling, or both.
"There are people like me who really need this support," Stith said. "I want to continue working, but I don't know where else I can turn."