Many important questions complicate the issue of providing subsidized child care in New York: Who qualifies for how much funding, for example. But at least one issue is clear. When counties cut or eliminate subsidies for families, they need more than 10 days’ notice.
Families in Erie County didn’t get that consideration three years ago, when then-County Executive Chris Collins slashed the eligibility level from 200 percent of the poverty level to 125 percent. That eliminated subsidies for the families of 1,500 children.
Last year in Suffolk County, the families of 1,200 children were similarly mistreated when the county lowered its eligibility level to 100 percent of poverty.
With barely a week’s notice, families were thrown into disarray, searching for alternative care that likely would have been more expensive, sometimes quitting their jobs or placing their children in child care settings that were, as the Child Care Resource Network tactfully puts it, “less than ideal.”
A bill that passed the Legislature and now needs only Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature would fix that problem. Its only effect would be to require counties to give families 60 days’ notice of a change in eligibility requirements. There is no financial implication beyond whatever cost that new extension of time imposes, and it would be a minor one compared to the peace of mind this measure would provide to tens of thousands of families across the state.
Here’s a measure of the legislation’s support. The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 118-25 in the Democratic-led Assembly. In the closely divided Senate, where a power-sharing agreement is in effect, it passed on a unanimous vote of 63-0. That sends a powerful message about the value of this bill.
The final legislation was a product of compromise. In order to assure passage, supporters agreed to reduce the length of notice to 60 days from the bill’s original requirement for 90 days’ notice. It was a fair trade.
This is not a small matter. When working people have to quit what may be minimum-wage jobs because the rules are suddenly changed, everyone loses, including employers and taxpayers. It may be unfortunate that taxpayers are required to subsidize child care for New Yorkers who can’t afford it, but it would be far worse to put children in substandard care.
This should be an easy decision for Cuomo. He should sign this bill when it reaches his desk. As a political matter, the bill passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities, so a veto would have no practical effect.
As a matter of public policy, there appears to be no downside. The legislation does nothing more than to ensure that parents have a fair chance to arrange for appropriate child care when counties change their eligibility requirements. The bill places no other restrictions on counties, which, if necessary, can still change those requirements.
This is the kind of unfunded mandate counties and taxpayers can live with.