Illinois child care subsidies at risk; legislators search for funding

Friday, May 04, 2012

ROCKFORD — Child care services for low-income families could be in jeopardy unless Illinois legislators can scramble to find additional funds needed for a state-subsidized program.

Day care providers were hit with the bad news this week when state leaders told them Illinois has essentially run out of money to pay for the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps low-income, working families find and pay for child care so parents can maintain their employment. Families share in the cost of the services on a sliding scale based on family size, income and number of children in care.

The program serves nearly 7,000 children in Boone, Jo Daviess, Stephenson and Winnebago counties, and the YWCA of Rockford is its referral agency.

That program and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are paid for out of the same fund. Both programs have experienced increased need, but TANF must be paid for on time — per federal law — meaning it takes priority, said Januari Smith Trader, communication manager for the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The situation seemed especially dire this week until legislative support started building for an increased funding request. But if the General Assembly doesn’t come through, it means day care providers likely won’t get paid for several months, and some could close their doors in response.

“If we see centers close, what are parents going to do with their children?” YWCA CEO Kris Kieper said. “They can’t afford to pay the full fee for child care if they’re on the program. That means children could be left in potentially dangerous situations. And for home day care providers especially, this is their paycheck, their revenue. They can’t afford not to get paid for three to four months.”

Kieper said the state’s disastrous financial situation puts child care providers in “constant survival mode” — fighting to be the first to get payment requests in so they can receive what little money is left, being forced to ask their banks for lines of credit and leaving them unable to plan for the future.

“There’s really no more being able to strategically talk about how we’re going to be innovative or expand child care or enhance curriculum,” Kieper said.

This latest distraction comes on top of previously approved cuts to the child care program for the next fiscal year — including copay increases and eligibility changes — set to start July 1. Still, state leaders seem hopeful they can find the extra funds the program needs.

“Due to a steady increase in TANF cases, additional appropriation authority is needed from the General Assembly in order to provide child care funding,” Smith Trader of the Human Services Department said in an email. “We are diligently working with the General Assembly to make certain these payments are made.”

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said legislators have identified money from other funds that can be moved around to pay for the child care subsidies, but that has to be done through supplemental budget legislation. He’s confident that can be ready by next week.

“In this case, funding is promised and is going to be made,” Syverson said. “If we don’t come up with the funding, then we’ll still have to pay it in July. ... It’s not like we’re saving anything by not paying it.

“I don’t think day care providers need to worry they won’t get paid for the next two months. If something gets bottlenecked next week, maybe that’s when there’s a need to start worrying about it.”

At Circles of Learning, a nonprofit child care center with two locations in Rockford, Executive Director Diane Stout said many of her parents are working two or three part-time jobs just to cover their day-to-day expenses. Circles of Learning cares for about 390 children, and about 80 percent of those kids have parents who rely on the state subsidies.

“It’s not going to get better, and that’s what concerns me,” Stout said. “We have cut expenses methodically, too, and the state has to look at Medicaid and pension reforms to cut costs. ... My concern for social service providers as we lose things is that I don’t know if they’re coming back.”