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Suffolk to offer child care to 600 more kids

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks in Hauppauge,

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks in Hauppauge, at a press conference regarding changes to a child care program designed to help low-income parents remain in the workforce. (July 9, 2013) Credit: Chris Ware

Suffolk County will add 600 low-income children to its child care program after receiving an increase in state funding, County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday.

The $1 million boost in state funding last month for the program, which helps low-income working parents pay a portion of their child care costs, means the county can expand its eligibility requirements so more parents can qualify, Bellone said.

Last year, Suffolk dropped more than 2,000 children from the program because of state budget cuts and growing demand for the program. This year, the county is on its way to restoring more than half of those slots, said acting social services Commissioner John O'Neill.

Beyond the 600 additional slots announced Tuesday, the county announced plans in April to add another 600 children after it set aside $3.5 million in county funds for the program. The additions will bring the total to about 4,700 children.

"This is a good thing all around," Bellone said at a news conference in Hauppauge surrounded by child care advocates. "This is supporting working families."

Under the revised eligibility requirements announced Tuesday, parents can make up to 150 percent of the federal poverty line, up from 125 percent announced in April. Last year, eligible parents had to fall on or below the federal poverty line to be eligible. Advocates criticize the line as too low, considering Long Island's higher cost of living compared with other parts of the county.

A family of four can now earn up to $35,325 and still qualify for child care subsidies, compared with $29,438 in April and $23,550 under last year's requirements.

"This means that families are going to continue to work," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), chairman of the legislature's Human Services Committee. "Unfortunately, when we cut funding, families have to make the decision of whether they can keep child care or whether they put their children in unsafe situations or reduce their benefits and salaries to qualify, or quit their jobs altogether -- all decisions we do not want them to make. We want to keep them working."

Tiffany Castro, 29, a mother of two from Central Islip cut from the program last year, said the new eligibility requirements will allow her to return to work. She said she left her job as an assistant bank manager in January to take care of her son, 7, and daughter, 3.

"It's been a very hard year, but I'm glad I have the opportunity to go work again," Castro said.

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