Rauner cuts income benchmark for new families applying for aid

Article by Wednesday Journal / oakpark.com. Photo Credit: Wednesday Journal

By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

 Some local daycare providers believe recent changes made by Gov. Bruce Rauner to the Department of Human Services’ Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides subsidies for low-income parents to send their children to daycare, will wreak havoc.

The Rauner administration announced last month new, more restrictive guidelines for the CCAP program that are part of a comprehensive package of state spending cuts totaling more than $800 million. The restrictions were enacted after Rauner and state legislators failed to agree on a state budget before the July 1 deadline.

According to new rules, in order to be eligible for CCAP assistance, all new applicants must be recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); teen parents who are enrolled full-time in elementary, high school or GED classes; or from families with at least one special-needs child, or with a combined monthly income up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level.

For instance, the maximum income a family of two, meaning one parent and one child, can earn and still qualify for CCAP funds decreased from $2,456 a month to $664 a month. For a family of three, or one parent and two children, the new maximum qualifying income decreased from $3,098 to $838.

A freeze on CCAP funding, which prompted the new restrictions, only applies to new applicants while it remains in place. Those who are already enrolled based on prior eligibility requirements will remain enrolled, according to a DHS fact sheet on the new requirements.

Faith Arnold, the owner of Sun Children Home Daycare in suburban Bellwood, said the new regulations would affect her ability to enroll more children in the future.

“It seems like we’re going to get funding for fiscal year 2016,” Arnold said. “That’s kind of bittersweet as a provider. Yes, it’s great to know we’re going to be compensated for the work we do […] but I don’t have any children who can come into the program.”

Diane Phillips, the acting director of Little Beginnings Childcare in Oak Park, said her daycare has lost about five families because they didn’t meet the new guidelines and that existing clients are paying out of pocket.

“It’s definitely having an impact on our enrollment numbers, which in turn has an impact on our staffing pattern, because we’re not able to hire as many staff members if we don’t have children.”

Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, the executive director of the Oak Park-based Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, said the CCAP eligibility restrictions are just a piece of a much larger series of cuts the state has enacted in the wake of the current budget crisis.

Schwartz said funds for professional development for early childcare providers and even for the federally funded food assistance program Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which the state administers through its own budget, have halted.

“This has been devastating for families and children and it’s creating a lot of instability in the childcare world in terms of knowing what your business will look like,” she said.

Schwartz said her organization is one of the few entities in the state where professional development training is still taking place.

“We’re still offering training, but we’re it. Oak Park is lucky to have it, but it will definitely slow down the quality improvement process,” she said.

Although Rauner’s CCAP restrictions are only administrative and are effective as long as the state is lacking an authorized budget for fiscal year 2016, Schwartz said the governor has proposed that some of the changes became part of the next budget.

When asked what her facility would do to accommodate the changes if they become permanent features of any future state budget, Phillips could barely countenance the question.

“We’re praying that they don’t,” she said.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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