Thousands of Chicago child care advocates boarded buses to Springfield early Wednesday morning to call on Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers to find funding for the state's subsidized daycare program.
"I don't think Rauner understands what these cuts are doing to people, I mean, this is my support system," said Nadia Zapata, 26, a single mother who boarded one of nearly 40 charter buses that departed from various locations across the city to make the trip to Springfield.
Zapata and thousands of other parents, children, child care providers and their supporters, organized by groups such as SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Indiana and the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, are calling on Rauner and state lawmakers to immediately restore funding for the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
CCAP, which provides affordable child care services to low-income families, faces a nearly $300 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends in June.
State subsidy payments for CCAP stopped last month and, as it stands, only federal funds are available to pay for the program, which could translate to layoffs at -- or even the closing of -- daycare centers across the state.
"I'm scared," said Zapata, whose 8-year-old son attends daycare five days a week on the city's Southwest Side.
Before February, Zapata said she was paying only $55 a month to her son's daycare center, which provides food and transportation services for more than 30 children. But the price has increased to $200 a month due to the loss of state funding. Her daycare owner has warned parents that the price could go up to more than $300 a month if the funding issue continues.
"I'm going to try pay what I can, but if the price keeps going up because of these cuts, I'm going to have to quit my job," Zapata said, adding that she earns $13 an hour at her job as a cook. "I mean, Rauner's going to have a lot more people asking for help from the government. He has to understand this is just going to get worse and worse."
An estimated 180,881 Illinois children, 95,682 families, and 31,884 child care providers relied on CCAP each month throughout this fiscal year, according to the Department of Human Services, which administers the program.
Monica Salgado, a child care provider for three years at The Giving Tree Home Daycare, said she and two other providers haven't gotten paychecks since the state funding ran out.
"I'm struggling because I also have a family. It's hard paying my bills right now ... This is how I make my living, this is my income," said Salgado, 31, who boarded a bus with volunteers from SEIU Healthcare.
Her center, which serves 17 children between the ages of 1 and 10, was forced to lay off two part-time workers in February and may even close its doors because of the budget shortfall, she added.
"This governor needs to put money to[wards] child care funding," she said.
Here's more from Salgado and Zapata before they boarded the bus on Wednesday morning:
Rauner's office blamed Democratic members of the Illinois General Assembly for CCAP's budget shortfall, adding that the governor will work to find a solution. But no specifics were provided about his plans.
"The Child Care Assistance Program is out of money because majority party legislators knowingly voted for a budget that intentionally underfunded Child Care and left our state with a $1.6 billion hole," a statement from Rauner's office said. "Governor Rauner didn't create this crisis, but he is committed to solving it without raising taxes on hard-working families and without irresponsible borrowing. We urge all members of the General Assembly to support a bipartisan solution to this crisis."
But James Muhammad, communications director for SEIU Healthcare, said state legislators "need to act now."
"Child care funding can't wait," he said. "There are already businesses closing, already parents are being put in a position to look for other ways to get safe, reliable care for their children. People are facing the decision to quit their job or school because of this."
"Our state legislators need to stand up for the people who sent them to Springfield," Muhammad said. "There are solutions out there and Rauner and our state legislators need to be bold enough to approach those solutions and make this happen."
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.