Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday April 8th, 2016, 5:27pm

Schakowsky Presses For Policy Action On Child Care Affordability, Worker Wages

Infant child care in Illinois costs an average of $12,964 per year, or about $1,080 a month. And that's simply too high for families, according to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9) and Illinois parents and child care providers.

Speaking Friday morning at a home day care in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, the congresswoman called for policy action to improve child care affordability and the pay of child care workers, whose median hourly earnings are $10.31, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

"For some families, child care actually costs more than college," Schakowsky said at Growing Curiosity home day care, 7649 N. Greenview Ave.

Illinois has the eighth most expensive infant care in the nation, costing nearly 20 percent more than the average rent in the state, according to EPI. When it comes to child care for a 4-year-old, such service costs Illinois families an average of $9,567 annually, or $797 a month.

The new research comes as parents and providers continue to grapple with changes made to the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which helps low-income working families afford day care. 

Citing a need to manage the state's finances during the state budget impasse, the Rauner administration made deep cuts last year to CCAP. After facing public backlash over the cuts, the administration eventually reversed some of the reductions. 

Even still, parent co-pays are higher and income eligibility requirements remain tougher than they originally were. As a result of the changes, there are currently 85,000 fewer children receiving CCAP assistance and 4,500 fewer Illinois child care providers getting state payments via the program compared to one year ago, according officials with SEIU* Healthcare Illinois, the union representing child care providers.

The Rauner administration has previously said it intends to loosen CCAP's income eligibility requirements once a state budget agreement has been reached. 

Araida Palacios, who operates Growing Curiosity home day care, said her business has been impacted by the cuts to CCAP. She has been unable to fill her six afternoon slots because many potential enrollees make too much money to qualify for CCAP, but do not earn enough to cover child care costs on their own. 

Several CCAP families were previously enrolled in her day care, Palacios said, but they stopped coming after being deemed ineligible under the program's new requirements.

"That gives me a lot of concern, because I do not have enough money to provide for my family," she said. "I struggle paying my bills. I struggle paying my mortgage. So, I (lost) that income that was coming to me."

Palacios currently serves seven children in the morning. All of those families pay privately at a rate of $60 per day, she said, adding that some of the children come only two or three days a week because their parents cannot afford full-time care.

William Igoe has two children who attend Growing Curiosity day care.

"We do pay more for our child care than we do for our housing right now," the Rogers Park resident said.

Igoe said child care affordability should be improved so more parents can access quality day care, like the service provided at Growing Curiosity. 

"Having this home [day care] environment where we can just kind of come over, it's less stressful for our kids, and it's a great environment," he said. "It's something that parents should have access to when they're out in the workforce."

At the state level, SEIU Healthcare Illinois is pushing for a package of legislation seeking to expand CCAP to more families and protect health insurance and training for child care providers. The union is also calling on the Rauner administration to negotiate a "fair contract" with 25,000 home child care providers. The workers want a $15 minimum wage.

Expanding access to affordable child care and boosting wages for child care workers would not only help the "economy, but the welfare of our children and our families in the state of Illinois," Schakowsky said. 

"At the federal level, we need to do more," the congresswoman said. "At the state level, it is shameful that we don't have a budget, that this governor is refusing to negotiate in any way because of his, I would say, pathological obsession with union busting. And so we need to get past that, get $15 an hour for the workers and adequate child care support for the families."

Illinois child care providers are expected to join fast food and other low-wage workers in local protests next Thursday as part of an international strike being waged by the Fight for $15 campaign in the U.S. and more than 40 other countries. Check back with Progress Illinois for our coverage of next week's Fight for $15 strike.

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