Governor backtracks on cuts to state child care assistance, but not completely

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File photo by Jonathan Gibby

Gov. Bruce Rauner backtracked Monday on an emergency rule he imposed over the summer that severely curtailed the number of poor, young children eligible for state child care assistance.

The emergency rule had slashed the maximum income a family could earn from 185 percent of the federal poverty rate to 50 percent, or about $11,000 for a family of four. On Monday, he proposed to raise the maximum to 162 percent of the federal poverty rate.

His announcement came after months of public outcry and protests by child care advocates and at the same time that Chicago advocates and aldermen were holding a press conference on Senate Bill 570. That bill, which had passed the Senate but fell short in the House, would bar the emergency rule from becoming permanent and bar the state from raising co-payments during a financial emergency.

In a statement, a spokesman for the governor said: “This bipartisan agreement will allow us to avoid the unintended consequences and costs that SB 570 would have brought. By working together, we will be able to bring financial stability to an important program valued by members of both parties.”

Asked for comment at the advocates’ press conference, Ald. John Arena (45th) said, “We don’t know anything about that to speak to the details. … Things happen a lot in the last 24 hours before something comes to a vote. We’re going to continue to put pressure on the governor to make sure that we get this right.”

Responding to the governor, child welfare organizations issued their own statement, saying: “While this agreement is a good start, we recognize that there is significant work to be done in order to end the chaos that has been created in lieu of a state budget. We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly on a state budget solution that includes sufficient revenue to fully fund all programs that low-income, hard-working families rely on.”

Illinois Action for Children projected that the latest changes to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) would still deprive 7 percent of children who would have qualified under the original rules from getting help.

Despite the governor’s announcement, the House is scheduled to reconsider Senate Bill 570 on Tuesday.

It will take another week before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules receives and possibly accepts the changes.

Effects on centers and families

Meanwhile, some child care providers figure it could take up to a year for their programs to recover.

“It’s amazing how many teachers have been laid off,” says Dawn Rogy, co-owner of Rogy’s Learning Place, which provides child care services in the Chicago and Peoria areas.

Her centers have lost 35 out of 500 teachers. Many qualified staff members moved into a school district or left the field because they feared losing their jobs, she said.

According to data from the Department of Human Services, 39,984 Cook County families were enrolled in the CCAP program in August. By September — the most recent data available — just 24,784 families were enrolled. That 38-percent drop is due to a combination of factors — families becoming ineligible after an income increase and children aging out of the program.

Genesis Villalobos, a parent who spoke at a public hearing on CCAP, says she postponed a promotion at her job as a veterinary technician in order to continue qualifying for the child care subsidy. Interviewed before the new announcement, the Bridgeport area resident said she planned to move back to Pilsen to live with her mother, due to the high co-payments.

In addition, child care providers and parent activists say they increasingly have heard about students who skipped after-school activities in order to watch younger siblings. Villalobos said one of her nephews has even missed days of school in order to do that.

“It’s too much responsibility on the older children,” Villalobos said. “So many things could happen if there’s no child care.”

“I’ve had kids just tell me ‘I wish I could come here every day’ or ‘I don’t know why I have to go home and take care of my brother or sister,’” says Rachel Ozog, student resource manager at the nonprofit Concordia Place. “They don’t want to miss out on these things.”

It’s difficult to say how many families were keeping children home from school or after-school programs to care for younger siblings. Families don’t want to come forward for fear of being labeled as bad parents and risk legal ramifications with Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, advocates say.

But Mary Dungy-Akenji, an organizer with Community Organizing and Family Issues, calls it a “huge” phenomenon.

Maureen Hallagan, chief programs officer for Marillac St. Vincent Family Services in East Garfield Park, she says she has seen young children walking home and staying home by themselves.

Melissa Mitchell, executive director of the Federation for Community Schools, says that had the original emergency rule become permanent, she expected to see an increase in school absenteeism and truancy rates, which were already on the rise in CPS elementary grades.