PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday August 11th, 2015, 5:11pm

Legislative Committee Fails To Halt Rauner's Changes To Child Care Assistance Program

An attempt to block the Rauner administration's recent changes to the Child Care Assistance Program fell two votes shy of passing by a supermajority Tuesday. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules' failure to put a stop to the governor's new mandates for the child care program means the controversial cuts will continue to impact Illinois families for the foreseeable future.

The Rauner administration's changes to the state's Child Care Assistance Program will remain in effect, at least for now, after an Illinois legislative committee failed to block them on Tuesday.

The Illinois Legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) voted 6-4 along party lines to suspend the administration's emergency rules impacting CCAP at its monthly meeting, ending up two votes shy of the supermajority needed to halt the changes. Democrats on the bipartisan, bicameral committee voted in favor of the motion to stop the rules, while Republicans opposed it. 

JCAR on Tuesday also failed to suspend the administration's emergency rules reducing ambulance reimbursement rates, eliminating Medicaid "Facilitation and Utilization" payments to five hospitals, including Roseland Community Hospital on Chicago's South Side, and changing court reporting services payments.

"The message clearly is that there is some people who the administration considers expendable," state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) told reporters after the JCAR meeting. "If you are a family who's about to lose child care, they've decided the budget should be balanced on your back. There are five hospitals -- mostly in inner-city neighborhoods. They're serving poor communities in Chicago -- who have been declared expendable today. The ambulance services across the state of Illinois are gonna have to decide should they move down from advanced life support to basic life support so they can stay open. People are now at risk with what's happened here today."

The administration argues that the emergency rules are necessary in order to manage the state's finances without a budget. Opponents say the budget impasse is not the type of emergency that requires such rule changes.

"It seems to me that in many of these cases the emergencies were created by the administration itself," said state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie). "In many of these cases, the emergencies were created because they decided to pick winners and losers, and so they didn't want that guy to lose, so they made that guy lose. And simply shifting money around for the administration's own purposes and own benefit and own list of priorities is not appropriate in an emergency rule."

Lang said Rauner "created a fiscal crisis" after he vetoed most of the budget passed by Democrats. He said Rauner could have balanced the budget on his own via his line-item veto.

State Rep. Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) said the rules are not a "case of picking winners and losers." He also argued that Democrats put the administration in a position of emergency by passing an unbalanced budget.

"Everybody loses in Illinois if we don't have a budget," he said. "This is like Illinois' on fire and we're having a conversation about what color the flame is. It's time to put the fire out. We need a budget. You can't send the governor a $4 billion [short] budget and tell the governor that he could have made these cuts and think that we wouldn't be in this exact same position we're in today, cutting very valuable programs." 

The Rauner administration's CCAP changes took effect July 1, when the state entered the new fiscal year without a budget in place. As part of the changes, monthly parent co-pays increased and eligibility requirements for new applicants were revised.

Specifically, a new CCAP applicant now 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. Regarding income requirements, new applicants had previously been eligible for CCAP if they earned up to 185 percent of the poverty level.

Child care advocates say the administration's changes will disqualify 90 percent of new applicants who would have been previously eligible for the program. Since July 1, nearly 1,150 CCAP applicants have been rejected as a result of the new requirements, Illinois Department of Human Services officials told JCAR members today.

Emily Miller with Voices for Illinois Children was among those disappointed by the JCAR vote. 

"The administration is putting families in a position that no family should be put in -- where they have to decide whether to quit their jobs so they can stay at home and take care of their child," she said. "These are people that want to work. They want to be a part of the economy, and they're being told that they are not allowed to be."

She said the CCAP eligibility changes will stay in effect, regardless if there's a state budget, for at least 150 days unless they are reversed through legislative action. Democrat-backed legislation seeking to restore CCAP's original eligibility requirements passed the Senate last week and is under consideration in the House.

Miller added that it is unusual for JCAR to be split along party lines.

"JCAR traditionally operates in a very non-partisan way," she said. "They see things through a different lens than the legislature does. They're committed to upholding the rules, and they didn't do that today. This is a departure from their normal practice. In different circumstances, this would not have happened. Things have deteriorated to the point where JCAR's voting on party lines."

Child care providers also spoke out after the JCAR vote. They raised concerns over how they will fill empty slots now that it's become harder for families to get assistance.

"Normally around this time we're enrolling new children," said Keitheia Adkins with New Knowledge Learning Center, a daycare in Chicago's Ashburn neighborhood. "Well, those applications are being rejected as we speak. So this is devastating. That means layoffs. That means children are going to be put in unsafe situations, and I am appalled at our governor."

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