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Women's groups urge <br> Collins to restore child care subsidies

Five women's organizations are sending Erie County Executive Chris Collins a joint statement protesting his decisions that "damage the well-being and health of women and children" and urging him to restore the child care subsidies he ended for some 700 working-poor families.

"We call upon County Executive Collins to make clear by all his actions that his administration is working to lift up the status of women and children in Erie County and that he is working to open up pathways to progress for the poor," the statement says. "We refuse to allow him to use decision-making that prioritizes short-term benefits but jeopardizes the long-term future of our most vulnerable and valuable citizens."

The statement was endorsed by the YWCA of Western New York, the Western New York Women's Bar Association, the Women's Fund, the Everywoman Opportunity Center and the League of Women Voters.

Other organizations involved are VOICE-Buffalo, CSEA VOICE, the Family Child Care Network of Western New York, the Coalition for Economic Justice, the Partnership for Public Good and Peace of the City. Organizers said the groups each year work with more than 30,000 Erie County citizens.

Collins rewrote Erie County's rules for child care subsidies, rendering some 1,100 children from 700 working-poor families ineligible this year. However, he has said that if Erie County can qualify for new federal stimulus dollars to subsidize child care, he will expand the program again. "The county executive is unwilling to use county tax dollars, in this case $10 million to cover day care subsidy for 2010 alone, to keep state-funded programs whole after Albany makes cuts to close its own budget gap," Collins spokesman Grant Loomis said.

"These organizations would be wise to use their time and energy asking New York State leaders why Erie County's funding was cut, despite being home to the third-poorest city in the United States," Loomis said of the women's groups.

Still, it was not the only decision that the organizations protested with their joint "Women Leaders' Statement." They cited a number of Collins' acts, most of which emanate from his belief that county government should hand over programs that not-for-profit agencies can administer. The statement cited these developments since Collins took office in 2008:

*Collins this year will end an array of services at two county-run health clinics that primarily treat Buffalo's urban poor. When the County Legislature restored the funding, Collins aides still ordered the centers to stop scheduling new appointments, arguing that lawmakers restored too little to operate the clinics all year. Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz disputed that calculation by the Collins camp.

Collins expects former county patients to turn to the Sheehan Health Network, Buffalo General Hospital or Erie County Medical Center, but the women's organizations said that for those patients none is as "easily reached by public transportation" and none is "designed to provide primary care services in the same efficient way."

*Collins ended Erie County's participation in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program to let Catholic Charities implement it in Erie County. "In the worst economic times since the Great Depression, the administration chose to narrow outreach to poor families rather than expand it. This shows a lack of concern for Erie County's most vulnerable citizens that we find troubling," the statement said.

*County Attorney Cheryl A. Green has repeatedly stonewalled a federal investigation of the Erie County Holding Center and the county Correctional Facility, despite complaints of sexual harassment, repeated studies showing the lack of mental health services and health care, the organizations said.

They called on him to spend some of the county's significant surplus from 2009 -- $44 million by Collins' measure -- to keep child care subsidies flowing at previous levels for another 90 days as he also works with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to secure new federal support.

Collins isn't likely to spend any of last year's surplus on a temporary extension of child care subsidies. He said he's interested only in a long-term solution.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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