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Help for working families; Poloncarz is right to assist the poor by restoring cuts to day care subsidies

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has acted in the best interest of working families and taxpayers by restoring cuts in child care subsidies imposed by the previous administration.

His recent announcement that he will increase the county's eligibility rules to allow families earning up to twice as much as the federal poverty level to take advantage of subsidized child care offers encouragement for parents who need the help but were knocked out of the program.

Former County Executive Chris Collins cut back the child care eligibility a couple of years ago from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 125 percent. That move touched off an outcry from people who argued that the action would force working mothers to give up their jobs because they couldn't afford to pay for day care.

The subsidies help low-income workers pay for day care so they can remain employed. While there is a local share in the child care subsidy, most of the cost is covered by federal and state governments.

Back then, Collins' stated purpose for the cut centered on the program's cost. He wanted to reduce county spending that subsidized the program. He later wisely increased eligibility rules to 175 percent of the federal poverty level after the county received additional state aid.

And now Poloncarz says he has seized upon an opportunity to further assist struggling families without adding to the county budget. Poloncarz says that after analyzing projections of future funding levels, child care rates and the number of children expected to be covered, officials believe the eligibility ceiling for aid can be brought back to 200 percent of the poverty level without spending any additional county dollars.

Assuming the projections are correct, Poloncarz has found a way to increase a service that he and much of the public has deemed important without adding to the budget.

Starting March 5, a family of three will be able to make up to $37,060 this year and still qualify for subsidized child care, as opposed to the current rules setting the limit at $32,427. The projections allowing that increase run through 2013, bringing some stability to a program that has had its ups and downs in recent years.

Giving lower-paid workers the tools to help them stay off public assistance is good for both the families receiving help and the county's taxpayers.