Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Saturday Nov. 23, 2013 pages A1 and A16
County Executive Maggie Brooks’ proposed budget would cut county funding for day care subsidies roughly 17 percent next year, raising the ire of children’s advocates who have been campaigning vocally for months to add money for the same programs.
Brooks’ proposal would trim county funding for a trio of child care programs from $7.4 million this year to $6.1 million. The majority of the $1.3 million cut, or about $800,000, would come from a subsidy provided to lowincome working families. The remainder would come from two other programs for families receiving public assistance and children at risk of being placed in foster care.
Rochester-based The Children’s Agenda, along with religious organizations and several health care professionals, have been lobbying the county to boost day care subsidies for working families by $1 million next year. The faith groups alone have sent at least 2,500 letters to Brooks’ office on the issue, said Dr. Jeff Kaczorowski, a pediatrician and president of The Children’s Agenda.
In her budget address to the County Legislature last week, Brooks acknowledged the campaign, but said additional money would come at the expense of other important services. She said the state requires Monroe County to contribute four times more than any other county outside New York City to its child care program and that the county already spends above and beyond that minimum.
Also troubling is the apparent elimination of the Parents as Teachers program in the county Department of Public Health, Kaczorowski said. The initiative educates new mothers about caring for their children.
“There’s a very real concern that we have that this budget is being balanced on the backs of children and working families,” Kaczorowski said.
Justin Feasel, a spokesman for Brooks, said the county plans to refer people now served by the Parents as Teachers program to five or six local organizations that offer the same service. Six staffers will be laid off. “At the end of the day … the county actually had to close a $45 million deficit,” Feasel said.
When Brooks explained her budget to the news media last week, she said the state requires the county to spend $4.2 million on child care subsidies and that her spending plan would provide a “$600,000 increase.” That state mandate only applies to the branches of the program for low-income families and those on public assistance. Robert Franklin, the county’s chief financial officer, said on Thursday that Brooks was referring to the fact that her budget includes $4.8 million for these programs — $600,000 above what is required.
But overall, all child care programs would see less money next year under Brooks’ spending plan. Kelly Reed, the county’s Department of Human Services commissioner, said almost all programs in her department are mandated by the state or federal government, but they have reduced funding for those programs.
“For me, this has been the toughest budget year of the last seven years because I’ve had to endure more than $3.5 million in allocation cuts for mandated services like foster care, food stamps and even day care,” she said.
For child care, the budget says the county would see about $1.6 million less in state and federal aid next year — a 6.8 percent cut. “That had to be taken care of inside of what I have available to address critical community needs and mandated community needs,” Reed said.
Kaczorowski said The Children’s Agenda estimates 485 fewer families would be able to get child care subsidies next year under Brooks’ plan, but county officials disputed that figure, saying the cost of care varies widely depending on what setting a child is placed in.
The county does not plan to remove any children from the program, but to place a freeze on new cases, Feasel said — an approach the county has taken before when child care money has run short. In her budget address, Brooks pledged to ensure that no eligible child is removed from the program.
Brooks last week also called on advocates to join the county in trying to raise money privately for child care. “If this is about the kids, join us,” she said.
Kaczorowski said he appreciates the idea of raising private funds, but it could be difficult to do sustainably over the long term. Details on the fundraising effort are coming in the near future, Feasel said.
Advocates are weighing the next step in their campaign.
Research shows that investing in day care yields results, Kaczorowski said — working parents can hold onto their jobs, while their children are more likely to do well in school and the workforce.
“Lawyers and doctors and teachers and investors and businesspeople pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to put their kids in child care that’s quality,” he said. “I don’t know why that should be different for what we believe for working parents, who are working hard too, but having more trouble affording that care.”
County Executive Maggie Brooks delivers the Monroe County 2014 budget to the County Legislature last week. JAMIE GERMANO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER