PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday July 10th, 2015, 3:57pm

Illinois Child Care Providers In A 'State Of Emergency' As Budget Impasse Continues

Changes to the state's Child Care Assistance Program were implemented by the Rauner administration on July 1 as a result of there being no new state budget. At an emergency town hall meeting Friday, child care providers expressed concern over what the changes will mean for working families and their businesses if the budget stalemate in Springfield persists.

Illinois child care providers say they are in a "state of emergency" due to the Springfield budget impasse and changes to a child care program that were implemented by the Rauner administration. 

Child Care Advocates United, an association of about 300 Illinois child care providers, convened a town hall meeting in Chicago early Friday afternoon to discuss the new Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) eligibility requirements that took effect after the state entered the new fiscal year without a spending plan.

"This is a state of emergency," Nakisha Hobbs, co-founder of the Chicago-based It Takes a Village Early Learning Center and a Child Care Advocates United steering committee member, told the crowd. "This was a decision unilaterally made without consulting you as providers, without consulting parents, without consulting citizens of the state of Illinois, and it is unacceptable."

The CCAP changes are part of $820 million in spending reductions that the Rauner administration said it would be implementing if a budget agreement was not reached by the start of the 2016 fiscal year on July 1.

A memo from the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) about the new CCAP guidelines says: "Due to significant projected FY16 funding shortfalls, the department is reducing Child Care Assistance Program benefits to ensure the continued sustainability of CCAP despite the limited available financial resources projected for FY16."

Among other CCAP changes that took effect July 1, monthly parent co-pays increased and eligibility requirements for new applicants were revised. 

According to DHS, a new CCAP applicant has to be one of the following to be eligible for the program: a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipient; a teen parent enrolled full-time in elementary or high school or GED classes; from a family with a special needs child; or a working family with a monthly income up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level. 

"Unless a new applicant is one or more of those things ... everybody else does not get served," Illinois Action for Children President and CEO Maria Whelan said at today's town hall. "We don't know for how long."

Illinois Action for Children estimates that 2,000 families have thus far been deemed ineligible for CCAP since July 1.

As for the revised income requirements, new applicants had previously been eligible for CCAP if they earned up to 185 percent of the poverty level.

Now, new applicants in a two-person family can earn only up to $664 a month to qualify. The maximum monthly income amount was previously about $2,400 for a family of two.

"There's nowhere in the state of Illinois where a family could live off of $664 a month, so essentially what (Rauner) is doing is he's completely and totally excluding working families from being able to participate," Hobbs said in an interview with Progress Illinois. "These are families who work, make minimum wage or close to minimum wage, and need a safe place for their children to go during the day, and the governor has made it ... impossible for that to happen for them."

Whelan said child care providers are among those who will still get paid during the budget standoff.

"You will be paid for all the kids who are enrolled," she said. "The question is: How will you be able to continue to enroll children?"

Child care providers expressed concern over how they will fill empty slots now that it's become harder for families to get assistance. 

Hobbs said Illinois child care providers typically lose about 25 percent to 30 percent of their children after the summer months as a result of them transitioning into school programs.

She said the local child care industry, which provides approximately 75,000 jobs in the state, "will basically be completely destroyed" if the changes stay in place for an extended period of time.

"We're talking by September, 25 percent of those jobs could be gone because we will be unable to replace children in those slots, and families who would typically be working and could get this benefit as somebody else is transitioning out, they will not be able to get this benefit," Hobbs said. 

Jamila Wilson operates Bright Start Home Daycare, a small residential child care center in Chicago that currently serves 11 children. She said four of her enrollees will be leaving soon to attend kindergarten.

Wilson said the uncertainty around how long the new requirements will be in effect and what they will mean for her business is "really scary for me, and it's scary for the parents that I'm providing care for."

Greta Towers, owner of Rita's Child Development Daycare in Chicago, is also set to lose three children who will be going to kindergarten. 

"I already have a waiting list of some coming in, and they're not going to be eligible with this new program going on, so where does that leave me," she asked. "That means my income is going down. I have to lower the hours of those who are on payroll, and pretty soon I'm going to have to let them go. My income goes down, then my family misses out. So then what?"

Hobbs said the Democrat-backed temporary budget that cleared the House on Thursday does not reverse the CCAP changes. 

Child care providers said it's time for Democratic leaders and the governor to break the budget stalemate and adopt a year-long spending plan that fully funds child care programming.

"We really should all be outraged," Hobbs said of the CCAP changes. "This benefit is an integral part of keeping Illinois working, which the governor says he's committed to. I think that these suggested changes are just really, really shortsighted, and I think (they are) a slap in the face to working families."

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