The parent contribution to county subsidized day care will increase seven percent for Westchester families above the poverty line on Feb. 1.
Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino hailed the increase, approved as part of the 2013 county budget, as a compromise in a press release Tuesday. The county executive's original budget called to increase the minimum contribution from 20 to 35 percent because the program ran out of money in 2012. A coalition of seven Republicans in two Democrats agreed to split the difference at 27 percent when they approved the budget in December.
“The issue was never the county’s commitment to day care but figuring out a way to keep the program solvent,” said Astorino. “Last year, the Democratic majority did not put enough money in the budget to cover costs and the program had a $3 million deficit by the end of the year."
But other Democratic lawmakers deny the day care program lost money in 2012. In a separate release, Democrats claimed the program ran at a $1.3 million surplus in 2012, and that the increase in family contributions wasn't necessary.
Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) was one of the Democrats who questioned the rate increase during a meeting of the BOL Community Services Committee Tuesday.
“The entire reason for raising the family share for this program, according to the administration, was to keep it solvent, but last year the funding ran a surplus—even at a twenty percent family share,” Williams said, according to a press release. “With this in mind, I can’t be confident about the financial rationale for increasing these costs for working families this year.”
The seven percent increase will only be taken from the percent a family makes over the federal poverty level. Astorino said a family of three making $25,389 per-year will see its contribution increase from $24.33 to $32.71. The rate is paid only once, regardless of how many children are placed in a day care program.
Astorino said that the county will remain below the state maximum of 35 percent, which is the amount charged in 19 New York counties as well as New York City.
But Democrats questioned why the county executive would increase contributions to a program they say has run at a surplus in each of the last two years.
“To trivialize or minimize the impact of these cost increases to poor working parents signals ignorance of the financial stress under which they live,” Williams said. “A few hundred dollars more out of their pockets represents a good percentage of their weekly take home income, and that will cause many parents to search for less safe alternatives.”
Astorino said parents will be notified of the increase this week before the rate increase goes into effect at the end of the month.