Changes Proposed To County Child And Family Services Plan

Cuts could be coming for area families who receive help paying for child care from the county.

The county Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a change in low-income determinations for childcare benefits from 200 percent of poverty level to 125 percent of poverty level. The proposal also suggests an increase in child care family share, or the amount paid weekly for child care by the parent or caretaker, from 20 percent to 35 percent.

The proposal also suggests that local priorities be identified in the event that all New York state Child Care Block Grant funds are used up, which will be based on income only. The cases will be closed based on income bands, starting with 200-176 percent of the poverty level and moving downward. The county will then not establish a waiting list for families whose cases are closed if the county does not have the funds to maintain the current caseload. The county will selected cases to be opened based only on income and will begin with the lower income bands, starting with 100-125 percent of the poverty level.

According to a local commissioners memorandum sent out by the state Division of Child Care Services and the Division of Administration on June 26, Chautauqua County was allocated $2,169,572 from the New York state Block Grant for the period between April 1 and Sept. 30. The county was allocated $2,169,573 for the time period between Oct. 1 to March 31, 2018. The final allocation for the 2017-18 time period is $4,339,146.

From April 2016 to March 2017, the county was allocated $4,507,929 from the New York State Child Care Block Grant. Jon Anderson, Department of Health and Human Services deputy commissioner, said the department has to submit a Child and Family Services plan every few years to the New York state Office of Child and Family Services. This year, the department is expecting a reduction in the Child Care Block Grant, which is a large part of the funding for childcare subsidies for the county. Anderson said it is a plan that is put in place just in case there is a drastic cut in funds.

“If we have a shortfall, we know where to start from,” he said.

The department is expecting a reduction in the funding but is unaware of how much, which is why the plan is being set in place. Anderson said any reductions, should their be a need, would be made at higher income bands first. An income band is a range of incomes in a similar level.

“We want those in need to be protected as much as possible,” Anderson said.

The proposal is currently in the middle of a public comment period in which comments are being accepted until Dec. 12. Afterward, the plan must be submitted and approved by OCFS.

However, even if the plan is approved by OCFS, it does not have to be implemented, unless the deduction in funding makes it necessary.

Beth Starks, Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center executive director, said the proposed cuts could be detrimental to many child care facilities across the county. Starks said with the proposed increase in family share, the families that would be eligible for help would have to pay more.

“Child care keeps Chautauqua County working,” Starks said. “If you don’t have child care, you can’t go to work.”

Starks said getting financial help to pay for child care allows more parents and caregivers the ability to go to work. She said without that help, many parents and caregivers are forced to stay home.

While the cuts would impact families, Starks said it would also impact the childcare providers. She said it isn’t often thought of this way, but child care providers are small businesses, too.

“Minimum wage keeps going up and the amount the county can pay stays the same,” Starks said. “All these centers are already in a tight position.”

Starks said in a brief survey of five different child care centers in the area, she discovered that about 80 families would be impacted by the changes.

Starks said there are many more throughout the county.

“We’re talking about hundreds of families, possibly,” she said.

Starks said she and her colleagues will meet as a group in the near future to find ways to let families know about the proposed changes and may wish to come before the County Legislature Human Services Committee.

The public comment period for the proposed changes is open until Dec. 12. until 5 p.m. Comments should be directed to Diane Anderson at childcare@co.chautauqua.ny.us.

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