FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 21, 2012
Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 | 914-815-4462 (cell)
Westchester Legislators Chairman Jenkins Faults Astorino for Misstatements in Press Release
White Plains, NY – Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) vowed yesterday to appeal the decision by Westchester County Supreme Court Judge Robert A. Neary to dismiss the Democratic BOL leaders’ child care subsidy lawsuit against County Executive Robert P. Astorino, and remarked, “It’s important to keep fighting for the people of this county who need our support, and so we will.”
Jenkins renewed his vow today in light of misstatements included in a press release issued by Astorino, which wrongly attributed to the court several decisions and determinations about the child care subsidy conflict.
Astorino’s press release does not mention that the funding requested by the Department of Social Services (DSS) to pay for child care subsidies was approved by the BOL in December 2011 after it overrode Astorino’s vetoes of two acts that restored $4.3 million of child care subsidies for low-income workers. In February 2012, DSS Commissioner Kevin McGuire stated that a department analysis of the County’s child care programs showed they “will run out of money” before the end of the year, and as a result the Astorino Administration had decided to take “emergency steps” that include capping the number of child care slots available through the Title XX program at 206 (the number of slots currently funded) and increase the family contribution to the daycare funding from 20 % to 35% of the portion of income that exceeds the federal poverty level.
Nowhere in yesterday’s decision does the court find that the BOL “did not put sufficient money in to the county budget” to fund child care parent share at 20%.
“Putting words into a judge’s mouth—that’s a new low for County Executive Astorino,” said Jenkins.
And while the court did acknowledge that McGuire had the authority to raise the family share of the child care costs to 35%, Judge Neary certainly did not say, as Astorino’s release purports, that McGuire had exercised this authority to “make up for the budget shortfall” that was caused by the BOL.
Indeed, DSS has yet to properly document any shortfall in the child care program. Meanwhile, DSS has had an average $15 million budget surplus over the last five years.
“These programs allow mostly working mothers who are near the poverty level to stay in the workforce and contribute to the local economy—while paying their bills and providing for their families,” said Jenkins. “I’m at a loss to explain why County Executive Astorino has to wrap this mean and disruptive mid-year cost-cutting agenda around them.”
Furthermore, the court did not rule that the County Executive should not be required to bring the full BOL into “lawsuits of this kind.” Instead, Judge Neary merely opined that he did not “believe” this was so.
“The bottom line is that County Executive Astorino is hurting working families with his decisions,” said Jenkins. “Just like our home and personal budgets, we make adjustments during the year based on our priorities, and that’s what is needed here. Funding for the protection of children in Westchester remains a top priority of the Board of Legislators, and rightfully so. This is something the Board and Administration should be working on together.”
Jenkins noted that the County has $135 million in non-restricted fund balance to use for programs that protect children. In fact, DSS moved $1 million last year to cover a projected shortfall in day care funding that never materialized—without any approval needed by the BOL. “There was no fanfare or threats to families, and no violation of the Budget Act,” Jenkins said.
“If the Board of Legislators did not put in enough money for the program, even though the Budget Director provided us with the figures, then the Board is ultimately responsible for the child care program being executed, and that’s something we will address through our appeal of the court’s decision,” said Jenkins. “But hard-working families in Westchester should know the Board of Legislators will not allow our county’s children to become pawns in a funding dispute.”
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