PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday June 15th, 2016, 3:48pm

Illinois Child Care Assistance Program Serves 55,000 Fewer Children After Rauner Budget Cuts, Union Claims (UPDATED)

SEIU Healthcare Illinois officials say the state's Child Care Assistance Program is now serving 55,000 fewer children because of budget cuts made by the Rauner administration. 

With the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program now serving 55,000 fewer children than one year ago, unionized workers with SEIU* Healthcare Illinois declared Wednesday that Gov. Bruce Rauner has "permanently damaged child care" in the state.

The Rauner administration's changes to CCAP, a program that helps low-income working families afford daycare, are negatively impacting families and providers, according to the union.

Many parents affected by the CCAP cuts can no longer afford child care and have left their jobs in order to take care of their children, said Brynn Seibert with SEIU Healthcare Illinois' child care and early learning division.

"We know that there are thousands of parents that have been forced to leave the workforce, that have lost their jobs or have had to resign because of lack of quality and affordable child care," she said during a press conference at the union's Chicago headquarters. 

According to SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents state child care providers, there were 182,442 children enrolled in CCAP in fiscal year 2015. That figure has since dropped to 126,638 in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

When asked how many Illinois child care centers have closed as a direct result of 55,000 fewer children being enrolled in CCAP, Seibert said the union is "still trying to assess the lasting damage on child care providers." 

"But we estimate that thousands of child care providers, both home and center-based, were forced to shut their doors because of the governor's cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program," she said. 

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

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and state Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) joined child care and other workers at the union's press conference. 

Biss said the problems stemming from the CCAP changes fall squarely on Rauner's shoulders. 

"I think it's important to talk for a minute about blame," Biss said. "Because the situation now is unacceptable, and I for one, I can't sleep at night. I don't absolve myself of all the blame. This has been a failure of everybody to come together and reach an agreement. But when it comes to these decisions, these are Bruce Rauner's and Bruce Rauner's alone. These are unilateral decisions that he has made -- decisions about child care, decisions about home care for seniors, decisions about how to negotiate at the bargaining table with these workers, decisions about overtime care.

"These are not about legislative negotiations," the lawmaker continued. "These aren't decisions that Mike Madigan or John Cullerton made or Representative Harper or Daniel Biss made -- these are decisions he made by himself 'cause he wanted to, I presume, 'cause he believes in them. That's why we're here today, and that's why Bruce Rauner is the appropriate person -- in fact the only person -- to call upon to stop the assault on the caregiving safety net in Illinois."

Workers listed a series of demands for the governor, with one being that he sign the union-backed "Invest in Illinois" legislative package. The proposed legislation seeks to expand CCAP to more families, while also boosting wages and protecting health insurance and training for child and home care providers.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois members, who saw their union contract with the state expire last June, also urged Rauner "to sign a fair contract and end the attacks at the bargaining table."

"We are also calling for the governor to stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable, particularly women," said child care worker Tiki Tunstall. 

The governor's office has not responded to a request for comment on this story.

UPDATE (4:27 p.m.): The governor's office points out that the CCAP eligibility threshold was lifted to 162 percent of the federal poverty level in November as part of a bipartisan compromise "to ensure the long-term viability of the program." As part of the deal, the CCAP income eligibility threshold will increase to 185 percent of the poverty level once a balanced budget is passed. 

Also, Illinois currently has higher child care income eligibility levels than all but one of its neighboring states, according to the Rauner administration. 

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.


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