In his Feb. 18 budget address, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said that a solution to the state’s $300 million shortfall in critical Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) funds was merely days away. More than two weeks later, however, the money—which thousands of Illinois working parents depend on to help pay for their children’s childcare—has yet to be found.
Illinois has about 3,000 licensed daycare centers, 8,000 licensed daycare homes and 700 group homes that are responsible for the care and protection of more 220,000 children. Many of them, to varying degrees, rely on revenue from CCAP funds to stay financially solvent. But with that critical funding stream slowed to a halt, many of them are having to shut their doors, lay off workers or turn children away.
“I know personally hundreds who have been affected,” said Nakisha Hobbs, during a press conference convened by state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) and Child Care Advocates United (CCAU) downtown at the Thompson Center on March 2.
Hobbs, the principal and cofounder of the Village Leadership Academy, an independent elementary school, said she’s aware of at least 35 facilities on the city’s South Side that have shortened their hours and more than 200 in the state that have scaled back services in some capacity.
“People are being laid off one after another and children are left wondering what they’re supposed to do each day,” said Alish Montague, a teacher at the West Austin Development Center.
One facility, the Aurora Child Development Center in Aurora, had to close its doors after more than 40 years in operation.
“We’re a not for profit and we’ve survived paycheck to paycheck for many years. Obviously now we can’t. Just can’t make it,” Laurie Sugg, the Aurora center’s director, told ABC 7 in a February report.
The center serviced more than 60 children, from 6 weeks to 5 years old—many of them from poor, working-class families. As with many of the more than 20 childcare providers at the press conference, the Aurora facility had relied on monthly CCAP funding that would often come 2-3 months behind—a problem in and of itself.
But the CCAP funding crisis, childcare advocates say, is about much more than childcare. It’s also about the ramifications a lack of funding may have on the wider economy. Ford said that if the state doesn’t find the money to fund critical services such as child care assistance, “the unemployment rate will go up, people will depend on food stamps—all those cost the state more.”
Lakeisha Collins, a nursing home worker and single mother of three young children, provided a case in point.
“I’m here today, because I’m at risk of losing childcare and I also may be at risk of losing my job,” she said, before admonishing Gov. Rauner for what she said was his lack of compassion.
“I don’t see [Gov. Rauner] caring about working mothers like myself who are single, who don’t have anybody else to help them,” Collins said.
“I don’t have a mother, I don’t have a father. I don’t have family I can depend on to take care of my kids while I’m at work. And it scares me, because if I lose my job, I cannot feed my kids. If something happens to them, what am I to do then? If I can’t pay for medical, for somebody to keep an eye on them just for eight hours … I don’t work a 9 to 5, sometimes I work 12 hours, sometimes over 12 hours,” she said, fighting back tears.
Advocates at the press conference even enlisted the pleas of children. Six of them were seated restlessly in front of the podium, beneath the lights of the television cameras
“Governor Rauner, my mom and my teachers have been very worried about me and my friends,” said young Izaiah Thomas, one of Montague’s students at the West Austin Development Center. “I know they don’t think I understand, but I really do. I don’t want my mom to choose between me and work,” said the 5-year-old.
Ford said that there are at least 700 revenue streams, such as the state’s rainy day fund, that Springfield can tap to cover the approximately $300 million shortfall. However, he believes that this crisis is less about an inability to find the funds than a proxy battle waged by Rauner.
“The governor’s office has proposals, but not in writing,” he said. “[Rauner] wants to use this childcare crisis to leverage his governing powers and this isn’t the right time to do that. We’ll deal with the budget problem after we deal with the $1.6 billion we need to close out this year.”