Time Running Out For Families, Day Care Providers

Feb 20, 2015

Child care providers who accept a state subsidy are “trying to hold on,” as one provider says. Funding for the Child Care Assistance Program dried up last month. Many of them converged on the state Capitol building Thursday to urge legislators and the governor to fund the program through June, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

The rally comes a day after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner gave his first budget address, acknowledging the costs of having the program run out of money. “Families are worried about how to care for their children,” Rauner said.

The program subsidizes child care costs for low-income families while parents work, go to school or both. It was only funded for half the budget year, and faces a $300 million shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Both parents and providers are awaiting a supplemental appropriation from the General Assembly.

Lawmakers say they are working with the governor’s office to move around money in the budget to fund child care and other programs. The two sides disagree on when a resolution could come.

“It appears that we are very close, literally days away, from a resolution. And every day counts,” Rauner said in his budget address. House Speaker Michael Madigan echoed that timeline after the speech.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford is a Democrat from Maywood.

But state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, head of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and Assistant Senate Majority Leader, says a resolution doesn’t seem to be impending. “Everything that we’ve proposed thus far, the governor has not made any agreement with,” the Maywood Democrat says.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office says talks are underway and a compromise seems likely.

“The administration continues to negotiate with leaders in the General Assembly and has already agreed to many of their proposals,” Catherine Kelly says.

And so providers like the Irving Park Early Learning Center in Chicago remain in a quandary. The center’s families participating in the Child Care Assistance Program have been put on notice that after mid-March they would have to pay the day care center’s market weekly rate — $334 per infant and $247 for each preschooler, aged 3 to 5. The director knows the families can’t afford that, but she says the center can’t go without state payments.

“We’re not sure when (funding) is going to go through. We’re being optimistic that the government is going to resolve this issue,” says Bardha Kazazi, the center’s director.

The program pays providers a set rate for each child, up to 12 years old, in a qualifying family, with parents making a co-payment. The providers’ rate from the state is usually substantially lower than their market rate.

At A.L.M. Daycare, based in Lisia Morrison’s suburban Matteson home, there’s a 3-year-old boy who’s been cared for since he was “days old.” The child’s family is among the 90 percent enrolled there who participate in the state subsidy program. Morrison says there’s no way she could turn the families away — for now — simply because they can’t afford her regular $150-per child weekly rate. At least for another four weeks, she says, Morrison is accepting parents’ co-payments not knowing when or if she’ll get her state payment.

“If the government is not there to help the parents then, basically we (child care providers) won’t have a job,” says Morrison.

Rates like those providers’ are beyond the means of parents like Elizabeth Lerch, who depends on the Child Care Assistance Program to pay for the care of her 16-month-old daughter.

'Without (the program) I would be homeless, and I won't have any way to take care of my daughter.'

“Without this, day care would be $900 a month, which is more than my utilities and my rent combined. So without (the program) I would be homeless, and I won’t have any way to take care of my daughter,” says Lerch, a single-mother from Riverton who works and attends graduate school. Right now she pays only a $218 monthly co-payment.

Likewise, Yolanda Strickland says she doesn’t know what she would do without child care payment help for her 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. The Chicago mother is trying to get her associate’s degree in business while working part-time.

“If they cut child care, we’re (parents) going to be lost,” says Strickland, who participated with her son in the rally at the State Capitol Building.

Maria Whelan, the head of Illinois Action for Children, seems to agree. Her agency processes Child Care Assistance Program applications in the Chicago area for the Illinois Department of Human Services.

“What we know is that low-income working families who are doing what we’ve said we want them to do … they lose this basic safety net, and they’re up a creek,” Whelan says.