Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino says he is open to compromise on the level of parent contributions for subsidized day care funding, but contends county legislators must first realistically address the nearly $4 million shortfall that threatens to shut down portions of the program before the end of 2012.
Westchester County is being sued by Democrat members of the Board of Legislators over the amount of money parents must contribute for subsidized day care. In the 2012 budget, the legislators set the parental share at 20 percent of income over the poverty level, regardless of how many children the family has in the program. Throughout the budget process, Astorino said the 20 percent level was too low to keep the program solvent.
Astorino's his veto was overridden by legislators.
"I’m open to suggestions but they must honestly and specifically detail just where the money will come from to keep the day care program operating,” said Astorino. “The parents and the children in the program, as well as taxpayers, deserve to know where they stand. So do the beneficiaries of the other programs that will have to be raided to finance the gap. I am willing to make tough decisions. I am not willing to pretend we can just find fictional revenues. That’s how Westchester became the highest taxed county in the nation.”
In a blog posting on Patch, Legislator said the Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators are calling on both sides of the pending litigation between four Democrat County Legislators and the Westchester County Executive and Social Service Commissioner, along with the New York State Commissioner for Office of Children and Families, as defendants, to immediately begin meeting to work out a compromise.
Maisano said Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins has been asked to schedule a Committee of the Whole Meeting and to invite the County Executive and Social Services Commissioner to conduct a discussion on ways to settle the litigation.
Faced with a financial crisis, Westchester Department of Social Services Commissioner Kevin McGuire received approval from the state Office of Children and Family Services to have the parental share raised to 35 percent, the level paid by families in New York City and 20 other counties.
Westchester County families had been paying 33 percent as recently as 2006.
Despite the state’s permission, Democrats went to court to block the increase. The case is before Acting Supreme Court Judge Robert Neary, who is expected to rule later this month.
Astorino said the $32.5 million the county has set aside for day care subsidies will start to run out this summer. Expenses are expected to hit $36.4 million by the end of the year, producing a $3.9 million deficit.
The program is broken into three categories:
- Temporary Assistance, about 620 children whose family income is low enough that the county is mandated to pay the full amount;
- Low Income, about 2,700 children whose family income can run up to 200 percent of the poverty level;
- Title XX, about 200 children, whose families qualify for a special county program where income can be up to 275 percent of the poverty level.
Most of the Low Income program and all of Title XX program are discretionary, which means the programs are stopped when the funding runs out. Astorino said DSS projections show the Title XX program running out of money at the end of July and Low Income starting to run out of money in October.
Astorino said the situation has been made worse because the overall DSS budget, from which the day care program is funded, has been hit by an $18 million reduction in federal aid and a $5 million increase in Medicaid expenses in 2012.
"When people say just find the money somewhere else in the budget that means we have to take it away from something else," said McGuire. "There are no good choices here. Arguing over whether the parental share should be 20 percent or 35 percent misses the point that when the subsidy runs out, parents are going to be paying 100 percent. When a program runs out of money, it just doesn't appear somewhere else."
The chart below, according to Astorino, illustrates the $32.5 million child day care subsidy program in Westchester County:
Child Care Subsidy categories (DSS)
Earn less than FPL*
Earn 100% to 200% FPL
Earn 200% to 275% FPL
# of kids in program
75% feds/25% county
100% feds until allocation runs out then 100% county
20% - based on income above FPL
20% - based on income above FPL
County budget FY ’12 – not including $1.9 million cost for administration
Exceeds budget in October
Exceeds budget end of July
* FPL – Federal Poverty Level (for Westchester family of three – $18,530, family of four – $22,350)