ALBANY – Legislation to help give more timely notice to lower-income, working parents that child care subsidies they receive are being eliminated or reduced was vetoed Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The veto surprised advocates who saw the bipartisan legislation, which sailed through both legislative houses this spring, as a modest request to give families more time to find alternatives if they are in jeopardy of losing benefits to hire child care help so they can work.
The bill, sponsored by two Buffalo lawmakers, was largely fueled by the problems that arose when the parents of 1,500 children in Erie County were given 10 days’ notice that eligibility requirements were being toughened by the county and that they were losing their child care assistance.
But Cuomo, in his veto message, said the legislation, which was intended to require counties to notify the state 60 days in advance of changes that might drop child care benefits, would not work because there was no specific mandate that providers notify the parents who use their services for child care.
Instead, Cuomo said, he is directing the Office of Children and Family Services to look into the issue and possibly come up with another solution to ensure parents are given adequate time to prepare for the loss of child care assistance.
“The stated purpose of the bill is to give earlier notice to families of impending child care assistance changes, but this legislation would not ensure or even require any earlier notice to recipients than the currently mandated minimum 10 days’ notice,’’ Cuomo wrote in vetoing the legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, and Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican.
“This bill would have provided parents who lose their child care subsidy more time to find safe alternatives. More than a 10-day notice to parents is respectful of the child, the parent, the parent’s employer and the child care provider as a small business,’’ said Marie Cannon, chief executive officer of the Buffalo-based Child Care Resource Network, which advocated for the bill.
“We believed that this was an opportunity to lessen the stress and avoid crisis mode for parents, if and when child care subsidy is changed due to county fiscal constraints,’’ she added.
Advocates say about 20 counties in recent years have changed eligibility requirements and given fewer than 10 days’ notice to parents, some of whom had to quit jobs or reduce hours to stay at home with children because they could not afford child care services without the subsidies. Getting word earlier to parents who no longer qualify because of government-ordered eligibility changes would, they say, provide a better chance of working out arrangements with their employment or finding other child care alternatives.
In Erie County, 1,540 working families – with 2,040 children – receive the child care subsidy, according to Cannon’s group.
The Albany-based Empire Justice Center, citing state statistics, said there is a monthly average of 69,170 children whose parents receive child care subsidies, which average $600 per child per month on a statewide basis for all types of care, including after-school and for children with special needs. Three-quarters of the funding for the programs is paid for by the federal government, but counties, which also pay a portion, have restricted the subsidies in recent years as their own financial problems mount.
Peoples-Stokes said the issue of losing child care without adequate notice can be a major problem for lower-income people with jobs who don’t qualify for free child care and face severe financial squeezes if they have to pay the full, going rate for having their children looked after while they are at work.
“We’re saying they should have more time than 10 days,’’ she said.
But Peoples-Stokes said she was assured, in a phone conversation Thursday with Mylan Denerstein, Cuomo’s counsel, that the Cuomo administration understands the problem. “I’m confident that we can work something out. I think they understand this is clearly an issue that impacts the working poor,’’ the lawmaker said.
Peoples-Stokes said the administration already has arranged a meeting for her next week with officials from the Office of Children and Family Services in Albany to discuss solutions, which she said could be a fix in the legislation or an administrative action by the agency to get counties to give more direct notice to parents than the current 10 days.
“We are also encouraged that the governor has acknowledged that this is an important issue that New York state must address,’’ added Cannon, whose group provides family services including child care advice and referrals.
In 2010, then-County Executive Chris Collins tightened eligibility requirements for the child care subsidies so fewer people could qualify by making the program cover households with incomes at 125 percent of the poverty rate from the previous 200 percent level. County Executive Mark Poloncarz has since amended the qualification level back to a household income that is 200 percent of the poverty rate. But advocates say all the subsidy slots are filled and there is a waiting list.