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Lawmaker's child care deal draws critics
Albany TU ^ | Friday, August 5, 2011 | By CAROL DEMARE Staff writer

Posted on 08/10/2011 7:35:00 PM PDT by Fitzy_888

ALBANY -- The husband of County Legislator Wanda Willingham was paid more than $45,000 over three years by the county Social Services Department to care for the couple's grandchildren through a program that helps working mothers. But, while it is legal, the arrangement has raised eyebrows.

Willingham is chairwoman of the Legislature's Social Services Committee, which in December approved an annual payment of $233,000 from the county to the Capital District Child Care Council. The council provides registration, training, investigations and approves child care providers for county Social Services.

Elijah Willingham, the lawmaker's husband, was approved by the council and has complied with its requirements each year, according to an investigation by the office of County Comptroller Michael Conners.

"It creates a potential for a conflict of interest when you've got the chairwoman of a committee's husband getting benefits from the department that her committee oversees," Conners said Thursday.

It is not wrong for Elijah Willingham to collect $115 weekly for each of four children of the couple's daughter, officials said.

"Under Social Services law there is nothing that precludes family members from taking care of family members and receiving a subsidy," county spokeswoman Mary Duryea said.

Wanda Willingham didn't want to discuss the matter outside a courtroom at a hearing on a challenge to the county Legislature's redistricting plan. She said there was nothing wrong with it. "This is all I can say, he's not certified by the county, he's certified by the state of New York."

In May, a request came in to Conners through his department's hotline asking that he investigate an allegation that the legislator's husband "was receiving welfare benefits for watching their grandchildren."

Rumors had circulated about the child care since last summer when it was reported that Wanda Willingham owed more than $21,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties on her Van Rensselaer Boulevard home. The request to the hotline asked Conners to look into that as well.

Willingham paid $21,878 in August 2010, a month after the Times Union reported the house was in jeopardy of foreclosure.

On the other matter, Conners obtained records that showed Elijah Willingham began caring for the kids in May 2008 and until this June, he received $45,610, according to a letter Conners sent, dated Aug. 2, to County Legislature Chairman Daniel McCoy and other officials, including Willingham. The Times Union obtained a copy of the letter.

The mother of the children has a salary of more than $49,000, the letter said. Because of that, she pays $16.90 a week out-of-pocket to her father for the oldest child, who turns 13 in December and will no longer be eligible for the subsidy, the letter said. Conners declined to discuss the ages of the other three kids, citing privacy.

The monthly check paid to Elijah Willingham is adjusted down during the school year. Conners' letter said before the children went to their grandfather's, they were in a daycare facility.

"If a parent applies, they must meet certain income eligibility," Duryea said. The department "will either provide a list of approved day care providers or if the parent has someone mind, DSS will say they have to go through the review process and investigation by the Council."

An investigation by Conners' staff showed that Albany County provides $1.2 million a year to child care providers. Once that mark is reached, federal and state grants kick in to provide the subsidy.

"According to David Kircher, acting DSS commissioner, Elijan is not in any violation," Conners said. But the comptroller has issues with the system.

"The way welfare has been administered hasn't worked," he said. "The number of poor has grown significantly in the last 30 years, particularly in the last 20, and I believe we need to evaluate the success of the system. There is an entitlement mentality that I don't think has worked for the long term benefit for the poor or for the taxpayer."

The $233,000 annual contract with the Child Care Council must be approved by the Legislature after it goes to the floor from Willingham's Social Services Committee. At the Legislature's meeting of Dec. 6, the resolution for the new contract was approved by a unanimous vote. Willingham was among those voting, records show.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Politics/Elections; US: New York
KEYWORDS: albany; newyork; willingham
LATER:

Willingham called for Conners, a Democrat who’s running for re-election, to resign. “What he did, he violated the law,” she said, calling it “a political assassination and abuse” on her family. She warned her fellow-legislators it could happen to them and said she has asked for an investigation by the district attorney and the county attorney.

Later Monday, Conners said, the lawmaker “called me on several occasions in 2006, ’07 and ’08 asking for assistance in getting her husband paid for his child care fee. If I wanted to release information damaging to Wanda Willingham, I could have done it several years ago.

“I look forward to a full and complete discussion of the welfare system and this matter” by the Legislature, the county attorney and the district attorney,” the comptroller said. “I did not release any confidential information.”

Conners reiterated that his office “responded to a request for an investigation (through the department’s hotline) into Chairwoman Willingham‘s husband receiving welfare benefits for child care. We completed that investigation and stand by the letter we sent to legislative leaders.” A couple of the letter was sent by an anonymous email to the Times Union.

1 posted on 08/10/2011 7:35:13 PM PDT by Fitzy_888
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To: Fitzy_888
"Under Social Services law there is nothing that precludes family members from taking care of family members and receiving a subsidy,"

Hmm, do mothers qualify?

2 posted on 08/10/2011 7:43:14 PM PDT by RightGeek (FUBO and the donkey you rode in on)
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To: RightGeek

So I wonder how much Wanda makes? If she makes 6 figures you mean to tell me her husband qualifies for a grant to care for their grand-children? I had 3 children, husband and I both worked full-time and we received no subsidies. It about killed us in summer months for day care for three kids when school was out...but we did it, on our own...

Just because a benefit is there doesn’t mean as a County, State or Govt official you should take it....


3 posted on 08/10/2011 8:35:37 PM PDT by Engedi
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To: Engedi

Just researched. She was making 122K a year in legislation and is now retired with annual pension of 66K. She now makes 100K working for the county on top of 66K.

From Wanda’s profile on the Albany County Legislature Website, “She is the sponsor of legislation to advance the Arbor Hill revitalization project by turning over some 60 County tax-foreclosed properties to the City to create a mix of housing for neighborhood residents through ownership and rental units, new construction and rehabilitation, as well as market and subsidized units...”.


4 posted on 08/10/2011 8:45:05 PM PDT by Engedi
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To: Engedi

Just researched. She was making 122K a year in legislation and is now retired with annual pension of 66K. She now makes 100K working for the county on top of 66K.

From Wanda’s profile on the Albany County Legislature Website, “She is the sponsor of legislation to advance the Arbor Hill revitalization project by turning over some 60 County tax-foreclosed properties to the City to create a mix of housing for neighborhood residents through ownership and rental units, new construction and rehabilitation, as well as market and subsidized units...”.


5 posted on 08/10/2011 8:45:05 PM PDT by Engedi
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