Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday October 19th, 2015, 12:52pm

The High Cost Of Child Care On Illinois Working Families

As low-income working families in Illinois grapple with drastic cuts to the state's subsidized daycare program, a national report is calling attention to the high cost of child care in the state and across the country.

In Illinois, a full-time worker earning the state's hourly minimum wage of $8.25 would have to work from January through September to afford one year of child care for an infant, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. That breaks down to be 1,556 hours of minimum wage work.

It costs about $12,800 per year for infant child care in Illinois, which equals 74 percent of an Illinois minimum wage worker's annual earnings, the report found. For a minimum wage worker in Illinois with a four-year-old, 55 percent of the parent's annual income would be required to cover child care costs.

Illinois' minimum wage provides a full-time worker with an annual salary of $17,160 before taxes. The federal hourly minimum wage is $7.25.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers child care to be affordable when costs do not exceed 10 percent of a family's income.

"Child care is simply out of reach for workers who support their families on minimum wage jobs," EPI senior economist Elise Gould wrote in the report. "Nowhere in the United States does infant care or child care for a four-year-old cost less than 30 percent of a minimum wage worker's annual wages, much less 10 percent."

Illinois is among 37 states and the District of Columbia where child care for infants costs more than 50 percent of a full-time minimum wage worker's earnings. In 20 states, including Illinois, plus the District of Columbia, more than 50 percent of a full-time minimum wage worker's income would be required to pay for a four-year-old's child care.

Among other findings, the report showed that annual infant child care costs exceed in-state public college tuition in 33 states, including Illinois.

"The high and rising cost of college tuition is well known," said EPI research assistant Tanyell Cooke. "But surprisingly, child care is an equally, if not more, onerous expense. In more than half the states, child care is a bigger expense than even in-state tuition at a four-year public college."

The report also examined child care costs in select metro areas, including Chicago. Child care costs for families with an infant and four-year-old are 29 percent of the median family income in the Chicago metro area.

EPI's research comes at a time when nearly 5,000 Illinois children have been denied access to the state's Child Care Assistance Program because of strict eligibility requirements implemented in July by the Rauner administration.

The new CCAP mandates were implemented through the administration's use of emergency rulemaking. As part of the CCAP changes, which took effect on July 1 when the state entered the new fiscal year without a budget, monthly parent co-pays increased and eligibility requirements got stricter -- to the point where 90 percent of new applicants will be deemed ineligible.

Under the changes, new CCAP applicants can have monthly incomes of up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level. Previously, new applicants had been eligible if they earned up to 185 percent of the poverty level.

Before the new CCAP rules were implemented, a family of two earning up to $2,456 a month could qualify. Now, a two-person family can make only up to $664 a month, which is roughly what someone working 20 hours a week at the state's minimum wage earns.

The Rauner administration, which said the emergency rules impacting CCAP were necessary in order to manage the state's finances during the budget impasse, wants to make the eligibility changes permanent.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Human Services held hearings on the CCAP changes in Chicago and Springfield.

Emily Miller with Voices for Illinois Children was among many speakers who testified at the hearings about the high cost of child care in the state.

"Governor Rauner's child care cuts shut out nine out of 10 new applicants who would have previously qualified for child care assistance, making quality child care increasingly out of reach in Illinois, even for middle-class families," she said at the Chicago hearing. "Without access to the Child Care Assistance Program, too many Illinois parents simply cannot afford the child care that enables them to balance work and family."


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