Demand spike leads to county funding shortfall for day care

Some day-care providers who receive funding from Suffolk County are going to be short on cash for a while, as a spike in the demand for their services has led to a shortfall in the funding they normally receive from the county, according to county Department of Social Services commissioner Greg Blass.

The shortfall applies only to day-care centers that accept children who qualify for DSS child care subsidies, officials said.

Mr. Blass said the county won’t get more money until January, and that about 25 percent of the day-care centers that normally receive county funding have not received it yet.
Marie Thorner, owner of Hollywood Nursery Day Care in Riverhead, said Tuesday that she had to tell a parent she’ll no longer be able to provide day care for her child.

“She called me from work. She was crying,” Ms. Thorner said. It was the first parent she’s had to say that to, she added.

Ms. Thorner said she hadn’t received any money from the county since October, although she said she did receive a check Tuesday after contacting County Legislator Ed Romaine’s office. That check, however, was for only about 70 percent of what she normally receives.

“They just gave me something to shut me up,” she said.

The county funding day-care facilities receive comes from a federal Child Care Block Grant, Mr. Blass said. That money is sent to the state, which then distributes it to the counties. Suffolk County received about $32 million this year — about $2 million less than it got in 2010 and about $3 million more than it expects to receive in 2012, he said.

“This year, we came in well below our projections in terms of funds because we came in well above our projections in terms of enrollment,” Mr. Blass said.

Enrollment was consistent with that of past years until the last quarter of the year, when it spiked, he said.

“Last year, our monthly case average was 4,187, whereas this year, it’s 5,069, which is a 21 percent increase,” Mr. Blass said.

That increase meant the county was unable to pay all its vendors within 30 days, as required by a county law passed last year. It now expects to pay them all within 50 days of receiving their bills, he said. That means they won’t get paid until January, when the county gets more money.

This the first time DSS has failed to meet the 30-day requirement, he said.

Mr. Blass said DSS has seen a spike in demand for many of the services it manages, including home heating assistance, rental assistance and homeless services.
The county DSS has no waiting list for day-care services and funds every qualified child care application it receives, Mr. Blass said.

“We do this because we feel child care is an economically productive investment of public funds,” he said. “It helps families get back on their feet by providing child care while the parents are looking for work.”

Not every day-care provider went unpaid, but because funds were short, payments were made on a first-come, first serve basis.

Larger operators who can afford their own accountants were more likely to get their paperwork in early, while smaller “mom and pop” day-care centers that don’t have bookkeeping staff were likely to submit their bills later, Mr. Blass said.

Ms. Thorner fears she will have to tell other parents she can no longer provide day care for their children.

“We may have no choice but to shut our doors,” she said.

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