BY JOHN CAMPBELL
ALBANY - A $7 million cut to a popular New York child care subsidy could affect hundreds of children from low-income families statewide, according to lawmakers and advocacy groups.
New York's $153 billion state budget, which took effect last month, included $799 million in state funding for child care subsidies for the poor, down from $806 million the previous fiscal year.
The cut was the result of push-and-pull negotiations and maneuvering over how to close a funding gap for the program in the state's annual spending plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers approved April 9.
On Wednesday, the Legislature's women's caucus called for the creation of a task force to examine the issue and make recommendations on funding levels and child-care issues moving forward.
All told, the cut could affect 900 children statewide even as many counties across the state keep a waiting list to receive the benefit, according to children's advocacy groups who fought the cut.
"These are folks who are living paycheck to paycheck," said Jenn O'Connor, policy director of Prevent Child Abuse New York, an advocacy group. "So if they lose their child care, their child is either going into possibly unsafe care or they're going to lose their job because they need to be home."
The state's child care program — which is administered by counties — provides subsidies for more than 200,000 children a year, according to the state Office of Children and Family Services.
It can be worth up to several thousand dollars a year and is limited to low-income families. Each county sets an income threshold, which is generally anywhere from 100 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (This year, the federal poverty level is $20,420 for a family of three.)
In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed $806 million in state funding for the program. It was the same amount as the previous fiscal year.
But Cuomo's proposal included $27 million in federal block grants that some localities — including New York City — have historically used to fund senior centers, a move critics said would have imperiled the senior centers.
State lawmakers pushed back, and the federal block grants were ultimately removed and replaced with $20 million from the state's general fund, leading to the $7 million cut.
The budget did double a tax credit for child care costs for middle-class families earning between $60,000 and $150,000 a year, a move that will cost an estimated $47 million a year when it's fully implemented.
For a family earning $70,000 with child care costs of $3,000 a year, the expanded credit will be worth about $240, according to Cuomo's office.
“We’re very proud that the enacted budget doubles the child care tax credit, making it easier for more New Yorkers to secure day care for their children and enter or stay in the work force with peace of mind," Cuomo budget spokesman Morris Peters said in a statement.
O'Connor said the enhanced tax credit won't benefit the low-income families whose subsidy may not be cut.
"To cut subsidy funding for the poorest of the poor and give a tax credit to those making $150,000 sounds counter-intuitive to us," she said.
Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, Broome County, said a task force would help the state examine how to sustainably fund the child care subsidy going forward.
"We do have concerns about child care," said Lupardo, who chairs the caucus. "We took a step back in the wrong direction this year."
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, Rockland County, noted the long waiting lists many counties have for the child care subsidy.
Just 17 percent of eligible families receive the benefit, said Jaffee, who chairs the Assembly's children and families committee.