The county’s two branches are set to face off in court next week, as a judge will decide whether Department of Social Services Commissioner Kevin McGuire was within his rights in upping the parent contribution to the county’s child care program without the approval of the Board of Legislators.
The proposed increase, from 20 percent to 35 percent of a family’s income above the poverty level, was set to take place on June 1 but the hike was halted after Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary granted a temporary restraining order. The two sides are set to return to court July 5 for a hearing on a temporary injunction.
In February, McGuire and County Executive Rob Astorino announced they were going to the state’s Office of Children and Family Services to request the increase, saying they were taking emergency steps without which the program would run out of money on July 31. The board immediately pushed back, saying in a press release that the analysis necessitating the emergency action hadn’t been shared with legislators. The administration still went forward asking the state for the rate change, which it was granted.
The court action challenges whether McGuire had the authority to effect the change without the board’s permission. Astorino insists it’s McGuire’s call to make, citing New York State law which says it’s up to a social services district to ”
set forth its priorities for child care assistance in the district’s consolidated services plan.” On May 30, four Democratic lawmakers including Board Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) filed a lawsuit challenging this, saying changes to the “
policies, programs and services contained in the finally adopted budget” must by law be approved by the board.
The subsidies apply to families earning between 200 percent and 275 percent of the federal poverty level.
Democratic legislators say the increase will make it more difficult for low and middle-income families to both work and support their children.
“Child Care Subsidies are absolutely essential for the families who rely on them,” Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in an e-mail. “What most people don’t know is [that] they are also essential for County tax payers, because parents who work and pay taxes are far more beneficial to the County’s bottom line than parents on public assistance and in homeless shelters.”
Astorino, though, said it’s just a matter of math and that the board didn’t put enough money into the budget to fund the program through the end of the year with a 20-percent parent contribution.
No matter what some legislators would like, one plus one always equals two,” Astorino said last week in an interview on PCTV’s Examiner News Talk. “The board chose to neither increase the amount of money that they had to fund this program nor raise the parent share, so we knew, we’re going to run out of money in June, period, unless we do one of those two things.”
In his proposed budget last November, Astorino had the parent contribution at 35 percent. The board changed it to 20 percent, a modest increase over the previous rate of 5 percent, and added $3.5 million. Astorino vetoed the change and said the additional funding was insufficient and that the subsidies would still run out by this fall.
Legislators Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) are also plaintiffs in the suit.