Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday May 9th, 2012, 12:08pm

Anti-Family Policies Have Illinois Moms Facing Uphill Battle, Say Women's Rights Advocates

In light of Mother’s Day, some women's rights advocates say recent cuts to state-run programs and too many anti-family policies are damaging the economic security for Illinois mothers and their children. 

From Medicaid cuts to dwindling access to child care, single mothers across the state are disproportionately impacted, said Sharonda Glover, manager of communications for the Chicago Foundation for Women.

These various state cuts have a “domino effect” on mothers, she said.

“If she’s losing her job, she won’t be able to pay for child care and the resources she needs to get her child to school, or maybe (child care) was cut down, and now mom needs to find a baby sitter,” Glover said.

“It’s a red flag. What are we going to do for women?”

Gov. Pat Quinn announced last Thursday that the state's Child Care Assistance Program, which provides services to more than 85,000 low-income, working families, ran out of money this fiscal year to pay for child care.

Some lawmakers are working to replenish a portion of the program’s funds, but at least one family advocate said she’s worried it won’t be soon enough.

“Service providers don’t even think they can finish the whole year,” said Tracy Occomy, senior organizer for Community Organizing and Family Issues.

“That’s a huge issue.”

Occomy said there’s talk that some service providers have already shut their doors.

“One of our parents in the network called on Friday and tried to get their child enrolled, and there is a message that they aren’t taking anyone,” she said, adding that other service providers said they might have to shut their doors for June and July due to lack of money.

“People can’t take two months off. They can lose their job.”

Cuts to child care assistance, among other budget cuts, negatively impact mothers in a big way, Glover said.

“We’re trying to make sure the public understands that we need to stand behind women and help them empower themselves,” she said.

Emily Dreke, director of development and communications with the Chicago Foundation for Women, said she’d like to see more paid sick days for single, working mothers.

“Paid sick leave is something incredibly important,” she said.

That’s because In Illinois, 80 percent of low-wage jobs don’t have any, or very little, paid sick days available for employees, she said.

“So what that means for mothers who are working is that they have to choose between caring for their sick child or not getting paid that day,” Dreke said.

The Chicago Foundation for Women is one of many organizations that works specifically in Chicago to enhance economic security for women. It does this by doling out grants to other innovative groups that work to increase job skills for women, among other support services.

For example, the foundation supports Occomy’s Community Organizing and Family Issues, which provides free leadership classes, along with other services, for low-income women of color in Chicago.

One of the group’s projects, Power-PAC -- a citywide membership of low-income parents -- works to bring a strong voice to low-income, minority and working families. The group focuses on strengthening positive policies for Chicago-area school children.

Power-PAC has three key objects: recess for all Chicago Public School students, eliminating suspensions and other punitive discipline policies in Chicago’s elementary schools, and reducing barriers to enrolling low-income, minority children in quality education programs in the city.

More than 100 members of Power-PAC visited Springfield Wednesday for its “Moms on a Mission” trip to celebrate mothers across the state and to advocate for children’s rights, along with a pending bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage.

Occomy said further cuts to state-run child care have the ability to crush working mothers’ economic security.

“The child care cuts would really impact the ability for low-income women to work and go to school,” said Occomy. “If they don’t have anywhere for their kids to go, then how can they pursue their goals?”

Dreke said state and local governments cannot continue to damage mother’s economic security.

Investing in women helps families and their broader community, she said.

 “It’s a smart investment,” she said.


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