Editorial: Lack of funding is creating a hardship for working families with low-wage jobs

By News Editorial Board

The rising costs of child care coupled with the increase in costs at certified day care centers is putting the squeeze on some hardworking Erie County residents.

One solution would be for the state to deliver a bigger share of the federal dollars it gets for day care costs to Erie County.

The request is reasonable and would bring Erie County more in line with its neighbors. Erie County receives $24.6 million in day care subsidy funding, while Monroe County, with its smaller population, receives $36.3 million.

This day care situation needs to be solved. There are parents who desperately want to work and contribute to their community. But their low-wage jobs run up against the soaring costs of child care. Without subsidized child care, they cannot continue working.

News staff reporter Sandra Tan profiled one woman, Dallas Lozada, who is caring for her grandchildren, 4 and 7. Lozada, 53, has a full-time administrative job that pays in the mid-$30,000-a-year range. She could manage on that, except for the cost of day care. The market rate for a day care center in Erie County can be as much as $13,468 a year, according to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. As noted by Child Care Resource Network administrators, that is higher than the annual tuition for state colleges.

The Department of Social Services has a waiting list of hundreds of families who qualify for child care subsidies, Tan wrote, but are left out because no money is available. It is the first time in four years the county has reached the point of not being able to fund the need.

There is an additional $3.6 million that has been set aside in the recently approved 2017 county budget for the 1,649 working families receiving day care subsidies. This is county taxpayer money, the first time that has occurred since County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has been in office.

The county is still trying to climb out of an ill-conceived move by Poloncarz’s predecessor, Chris Collins, who in 2010 cut child care eligibility from 200 percent of the poverty level to 125 percent. State subsidies, Collins said back then, were not keeping pace with county demand. Poloncarz raised day care eligibility standards in 2012. The number of children benefiting from child care subsidies has risen by more than 20 percent since that time.

However, because the state funding formula takes into account claims over the previous five years, the cuts from the Collins era meant Erie County continued to be shortchanged.

Adding to the pain is the cost to the day care facilities of adhering to tightened state and federal regulations, which now exceed those of any other state in the country. The county ends up paying more for the same number of slots.

Government should be doing what it can to encourage working parents and guardians to remain on the job. The state should recalculate the need in Erie County and do more to help fund this critical service.