“This Administration Still Needs to Get a Handle on the Numbers and Set Smart Spending Priorities”
White Plains, NY – Democratic members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) reacted with disappointment and disgust today upon learning that County Executive Robert P. Astorino has ordered the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) to increase the family contribution to the daycare funding from 20% to 35% of the portion of income that exceeds the federal poverty level. A public notice has since been published. Public comment on the change ends on May 14.
This unilateral decision comes after DSS Commissioner Kevin McGuire, under questioning from members of the BOL’s Community Service Committee, chaired by Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), agreed that a full financial analysis of 2012’s first quarter child care costs would be shared with the BOL before any changes in the family contribution would be proposed. Williams plans to introduce a resolution to prevent this modification or any other in the family share rates during the year.
“These programs are designed for mostly working mothers who are near the poverty level to stay in the workforce and contribute to the local economy—while paying their bills and providing for their families,” said Williams. “Commissioner McGuire promised there would be more discussion before changes were made. To suddenly push up family costs that will push many out of this program is just plain cruel.”
The BOL overrode Astorino’s vetoes of two acts that restored $4.3 million of child care subsidies for low-income workers in December 2011, a move that child care advocates and community leaders acknowledged was right for Westchester. In February 2012, obviously still feeling the sting of this legislative rebuke to his attack on an important safety net program, Astorino claimed that the County’s programs that run the child care subsidies “will run out of money” before the end of the year, and that “emergency steps” were necessary to cap the number of child care slots available through the Title XX program at 206 (the number of slots currently funded) and increase the family contribution to the daycare funding from 20% to 35%.
When two BOL committees met with the DSS Commissioner Kevin McGuire and his staff in December regarding the programs for daycare subsidies in anticipation of finalizing appropriation amount in the 2012 County Budget, there was no mention of any dire financial circumstances for these programs. The BOL, realizing that more funds may be needed because of greatest participation in the programs, even increased the family share from 15% to 20%, which the DSS concurred was reasonable.
DSS has a $566 million annual budget and is projected to have in excess of $10 million dollars surplus for 2011.
“This Administration still needs to get a handle on the numbers and set smart spending priorities,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), a member of the Community Services Committee and chair of the BOL’s Government Operations Committee. “We have not been given any substantial proof that this program is breaking the bank. The decision seems more mean-spirited than sensible.”
Borgia also noted that County Executive Astorino’s proposal to move his “State of the County” address to the Westchester County Courthouse would cost taxpayers untold thousands of dollars for the overtime police and staffing costs—money that could be going to help people rather than serve political vanity.
“Giving hard-working residents some help as they move up the economic ladder is always a good idea, and it’s an investment that helps strengthen communities for years to come,” said Legislator Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers), a member of the BOL’s Community Services Committee and chair of the Public Safety Committee. “Driving up these costs for families will force many of them to use illegal daycare providers and could endanger young lives.”
The increase in family share for daycare, amounting to over $1,400 for each child, would mostly affect working mothers making an average of $30,000 a year, said Perez.