Franklin Park families panic over proposed cuts in child care aid
Parents gather at the Franklin Park District 84 administration center May 2 to discuss cuts in a state program that helps pay for child care for low-income working parents. | Mark Lawton/Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:24AM
Lidia Sanchez of Franklin Park is worried.
Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed budget cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program, a program that covers the majority of the cost for three of Sanchez’s children to attend daycare while she works at Cook County hospitals, helping patients apply for insurance.
“I will literally be out of a job,” if the program is cut,” Sanchez said. “I will end up on unemployment and in the welfare system. I will lose my apartment.”
Sanchez is one of more than 60 low-income parents who attended a meeting in the gym at the District 84 administrative center in Franklin Park on Wednesday. Some sat at pull-down lunch tables and in tiny chairs made for elementary school students while they heard requests to call their state legislators and plans for a rally in Springfield.
Among those in attendance was Celicia Garcia of Franklin Park who works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. doing the bookkeeping in a collision shop. She earns about $2,000 a month. That’s enough to cover most of her family’s expenses, but not daycare for her 2-year-old son.
“I could have somebody watch him, but he’s not going to learn anything (like in daycare),” Garcia said.
The Child Care Assistance Program aims to help working parents who earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. This is the third year in a row the state government plans to contract out the program, said Maria Whelan, president of Illinois Action for Children, a Chicago-based non-profit that administers the program in Cook County.
“It’s further marginalizing families who are doing everything we want: work, be productive, take good care of their children,” Whelan said. “We’re forcing them to make choices that are terrible, like leaving your children home alone or quitting your job.”
Governor Quinn’s proposed changes, which will take effect July 1, include increasing the parent co-pay, decreasing the number of families who are eligible, cutting payments to daycare centers and no longer allowing for changes in work schedules.
To understand why Quinn and the General Assembly keep making cuts to the program, its important to know that legislators have control of only a portion of the state budget.
The budget’s general fund is about $33.5 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. About $9.6 billion of that is hard costs, such as paying interest on debt, transfers to local governments and pension debt. That’s according to Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a non-partisan non-profit that analyzes the state budget.
After the hard costs, there are minimum staffing limits for such things as prisons and federal matches on items like Medicaid.
“Once you get through things like that, really only about $12 billion to $15 billion is discretionary,” Martire said.
Out of that amount, about 35 percent goes to education, 30 percent goes to health care and 5 percent goes to public safety. The rest goes to human services, which includes the Child Care Assistance Program.
“Another complicating factor is the accumulated deficit from unpaid bills of $8.5 billion,” Martire said. “They’re not going to have the money to pay for everything they approved.”
That leaves the governor and General Assembly with the question of what to cut. Martire said office-holders decide by what he calls “common political sense.”
Everyone is or was a child and understands the value of funding education, Martire said. Everyone has been to a doctor and understands the value of health care. Everyone understands the value of law enforcement and coming home to a safe street.
Human services, however, includes funding for such services as caring for people with mental disabilities, the aged, substance abuse prevention, domestic violence, abused children and so forth.
“None of those things have universal voter understanding or appeal,” Martire said. “Even though they care for the most fragile members of society and even though their needs go up, they are the first to get cut.”
Cuts in the Child Care Assistance Program also impact childcare providers such as Small World Learning Center in Franklin Park. Owner Theresa Dellarmi explains that upward of 90 percent of the children at Small World are paid for by the program.
“If they don’t get assistance, I won’t have families,” Dellarmi said. “I’m panicking.”
Dellarmi isn’t alone.
About 75 percent of human services in Illinois are provided by private businesses that are reimbursed by the state, Martire said.
“(Cuts) have a horrible ripple effect,” he said.
Ariel Chaidez, who lives in unincorporated Leyden Township, is also concerned. He earns $50,000 a year educating low-income parents and doesn’t have to rely on state assistance.
Chaidez has sent his 4-year-old daughter to Small World in the past and would like to send his 2-year-old daughter there next year. But cuts to the program could cause Small World to close, he noted.