Democratic Westchester Legislators Show Need for Social Services Growing in Westchester

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 14, 2013

Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)

Democratic Westchester Legislators Show Need for Social Services is Growing in Westchester

Call for Increased Financial Support for Child Care, Homeless and Nutrition Programs

White Plains, NY – Utilizing line graphs with up-to-date information spanning the last four years [see attachment], Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) presented compelling proof at a press conference today that the need for social services is growing in Westchester. The legislators also called on County Executive Rob Astorino to work collaboratively with the BOL to increase financial support for child care, homeless and nutrition programs.

“Even as our economic picture had improved, many of our residents are still in great need with basic necessities like shelter and food,” said BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah). “The trends we see in the data that has been collected present a picture that should concern all of residents and business owners: The need for social services has increased over the past four years while funding has decreased.”

Indeed, since 2009 homeless families have increased 40%, food assistance caseloads are up 53% and day care need has climbed almost 15%.

Added Harckham: “For three vulnerable groups of Westchester residents—the homeless, the hungry and low-income workers needing child care—it is imperative that funding for safety net programs be increased as soon as possible to reverse these trends, or there will be exponentially higher costs for taxpayers to shoulder down the road. It’s time for the Administration and Board of Legislators to work together on this.”

The BOL Democratic caucus members looked at families in Westchester County child care services and noted that daycare slots increased from 3152 in 2009 to 3615 last year, even though Title XX applications were frozen and misinformation was abundant. There are 3477 slots planned by Astorino Administration for 2013, the decreasing availability contrasting with the apparent increased need over past few years.

Meanwhile, the low income day care parent share has increased by 164% since 2009, yet the cost of the program has increased only 6% over the 2009 funding level. Child Care Block Grant (CCBG) revenue is used to offset the Low Income Daycare Expenses. At a Town Hall meeting in Ossining earlier this month, County Executive Astorino claimed that the day care program had run out of money halfway through 2012 when it actually ended up with a $3.7 million surplus.

Title XX Day Care is County funded Day Care with no CCBG reimbursement; its costs are split between the County and the parent share. But Title XX Day Care has been nearly eliminated with an 88% reduction since 2009.

Child Care Scholarships were designed to assist households who are ineligible for Title XX subsidies to pay for child care services because their incomes exceed the limits set forth for eligibility by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). The scholarships must be used for services rendered by day care providers licensed by or registered with OCFS. Unfortunately, Astorino completely eliminated this program.

“I’m sure many working parents have turned to low-cost, unregulated day care operations because of the escalating costs and loss of scholarships,” said Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL Community Services Committee.

In 2009, the average March expense for Low Income Day Care was $91; now, in 2013, the average expense will increase to $240.

The BOL Democratic caucus has been concerned with the number of homeless families in Westchester, especially since their number has increased by 40% since 2009. In 2009 the average annual Family Homeless rate was 3,588 and now in 2013 that number is projected to be 4,980. That is almost an increase of 1,400 homeless families in Westchester County.

At the same time, Eviction Prevention funding in 2013 remains at the same level it was funded at in 2009. An increase in funding for this program was added by the BOL in 2012. In 2013 any additional eviction prevention funding was eliminated by the Administration. After the Democratic caucus added funding back for eviction prevention, the coalition eliminated it. The 2013 funding level is now back to where it was in 2009. Likewise, the Housing Action Council saw reductions of 10% through 2012 and was further cut in 2013. The Democratic caucus tried to restore the level to at least that of 2012, but coalition members voted to slash another 9% off this housing program.

“In Westchester County, we should be doing our best to help people with emergency shelter needs and find them long-term solutions to their housing needs,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL’s Government Operations Committee. “Programs that serve our homeless residents need our support, especially when considering how the economic downturn adversely affected so many here in Westchester.”

Borgia reminded those at the event that Barry Himmelstein, a homeless man, was found dead in Greenburgh earlier this year in a van that he was living in.

Also, the economic downturn has resulted in larger numbers of requests for assistance at food banks and nutrition programs around the county. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps to needy residents, has seen an increase of 53% since 2009. There were 52,791 individual SNAP recipients in Westchester County in 2009. In 2013 the projected individual SNAP recipients in Westchester County is 80,935—an increase of 28,144 people in Westchester County on SNAP over the past four years.

But the Food Bank of Westchester is slated to get no funding from the County in 2013. Once again, while the BOL’s Democratic caucus tried to restore funding levels, the coalition of BOL Republicans and two Democratic legislators all eliminated it. (Astorino has since “promised” the funding that was cut for 2013, though no A&C contract has yet been furthered by the Administration.)

The Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless will not receive funding in 2013 either. Again, the BOL Republican-led coalition denied the budget addition forwarded by the Democratic caucus.

All in all, while indicators like the number of homeless families, the number of people receiving SNAP and the need for Low Income Day Care has increased since 2009, funding for the support programs to help prevent or aid in curbing these social needs are being reduced and eliminated.

“Westchester cannot be a county that turns its back on residents who need help,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “With all of the resources and wealth available to be able to feed our hungry and house our homeless, we should not be shirking our moral duty in this regard. It’s time to reverse these disturbing trends before neglect turns to regret.”

Bazzo 03/15/13

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