Mayor objects to families earning more than $100K a year receiving subsidized day care
Published 12:00 am, Wednesday, August 9, 2017
NEW MILFORD — Mayor David Gronbach is questioning whether the Children’s Center caters to the working poor when it provides state-subsidized day care to some families earning more than $100,000 a year.
Gronbach said he has learned five families served by the center reported income of more than $100,000 last year, yet part of their fees were paid by the state. He argued the subsidized spots should be given to lower-income families.
“From what I have heard about the motivation to support the ‘working poor,’ not many of us would classify someone making over $100,000 as ‘working poor,’” Gronbach wrote on Facebook. “Something about the current priorities is not right when a family making over $100,000 takes the subsidized spot of a single parent making a fraction of that.”
Gronbach said, and Children’s Center officials confirmed, all of the families receiving state subsidies, including those earning more than $100,000, are eligible under state income guidelines. Under those guidelines, families are eligible for subsidies as long as they make less than 75 percent of the state median income, adjusted for family size.
Recipients of subsidized care made as little as $11,800 for a family of three, and as much as $116,000 for a family of six in 2015, documents show.
“We follow the state’s rules, and let’s not forget that this grant is an amazing gift to this community,” said Susan Johnston, the center’s executive director. “It has helped thousands of children over the four decades we’ve had it.”
She said a family whose income rises above the 75 percent threshold can stay in the program unless it reaches 100 percent of the state median. Thus one family of six reported an income of $124,000 in 2016, but retained its subsidy. The family would not become ineligible until its income exceeded $140,000.
“We follow the guidelines of the state,” Johnston said.
The nonprofit center, founded in 1971, provides day care for about 100 children, some with subsidies and some whose families pay full fees.
Forty-seven of the center’s full-time spots are set aside in various age-dependent categories for those who meet the state subsidy requirements, Johnston said.
Gronbach said low-income families should be given priority.
“I understand child care is expensive, but you have to make choices,” Gronbach, a parent of three, said in an interview. “I fall under (the state threshold) right now based on my pay ... but I’m in the position that I can make choices. A lot of people are not.
“I see people out there that are struggling,” he said.
Johnston said the state grant was created to help families of different incomes because research shows a mix of students from different backgrounds in a classroom is best for young students.
“It was devised intentionally to be an inclusionary program,” she said.
Center officials butted heads with Gronbach last year over his plan to stop the longstanding practice of providing its workers town health insurance. The mayor argued it was improper to provide insurance to nonemployees.
Johnston and Children’s Center supporters fought the change, and the town eventually agreed to increase its annual support of the center from about $80,000 to $104,000 to help offset the costs the center incurred in buying its own insurance.
Gronbach said he noticed the high earners when he signed a subcontracting agreement earlier this year.
Johnston said there is little he can do to change how the Children’s Center works.
Republican Town Councilman Pete Bass, who is running against Gronbach for mayor, agreed with Johnston, saying high-earning families should be in the program to ensure a mix of children from different socioeconomic groups.
Moreover, the town has little to do with the center’s state-funded slots, he said.
“This really isn’t about the Children’s Center, it’s the state of Connecticut,” he said.
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