“We’re here because our communities are being devastated by budget cuts to childcare, school homes, home care and other services, while banks and rich CEOs make off like bandits,” said Cynthia Brown, the owner of Little People Christian Daycare in suburban Maywood.
Brown was among a group of about 30 people who got together in a shaded corner of LaFollette Park, 1333 N. Laramie Avenue, on a hot July 30 afternoon for a community teach-in. The idea for the gathering was hatched by the Grassroots Collaborative, a coalition of labor unions and community organizations. Most of the people at the park were females — teachers, paraprofessionals and childcare providers represented by SEIU Healthcare or the Chicago Teachers Union.
The outdoor session amounted to an hour long lesson in an age-old power struggle — that between the capital-owning haves and the income-earning have-nots, with many of the afternoon’s ‘instructors’ putting personal testimonies and faces to what are often considered impersonal political and economic forces.
“One of the issues we see is there is a lot of money being left on the table, specifically money going to banks,” said Nathan Ryan, communications director for Grassroots Collaborative.
“Illinois gives millions of dollars away each year on the interest fees from bad financial deals. Two-thirds of the corporations in Illinois don’t pay income taxes. We think the wealthy should pay their fair share instead of going after our parks, libraries and schools.”
Many in attendance decried Gov. Bruce Rauner’s handling of the state’s budget crisis and his recent changes to the Department of Human Services’ (DHS’s) Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides subsidies for low-income parents to send their children to daycare.
The Rauner administration announced this 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 FY 2016 budget before the July 1 deadline.
“According to DHS, a new CCAP applicant has to be one of the following to be eligible for the program: a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipient; a teen parent enrolled full-time in elementary or high school or GED classes; from a family with a special needs child; or a working family with a monthly income up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level,” Progress Illinois reported on July 10.
Sandra Knight, the executive director for the YWCA, told the Daily Journal recently that 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.
Faith Arnold, the owner of Sun Children Home Daycare in suburban Bellwood, told the teach-in crowd that the new regulations would affect her ability to enroll more children.
“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!”
Arnold recalled the story of one of those parents who she said was denied a childcare subsidy because she’s going to start a job that pays her more than 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
“I had a situation where a mom needed care for her children, her two kids. She relocated up here from Atlanta, had a job waiting for her. She was referred to me by a friend of a friend who asked if I could help the parent. But I couldn’t help her, because she was about to make minimum wage. She didn’t qualify. So she came to see me Tuesday [of this week] and I told her I don’t know what to tell you. ‘What am I going to do,’ she said. She told me that she needed to know something, because she starts her job on Monday. ‘I need to know what to do with my children,’ she said. So she got on the bus yesterday and took her two babies back to Atlanta, Georgia to live with a family; hoping everything will be okay.”
Arnold, who at one point was so irate she needed to pause a few seconds to gather her thoughts, said she believes the state’s budget crisis isn’t about wasteful spending; rather, it’s about an unjust lack of revenue.
“I’m highly upset about this. Gov. Rauner has not asked his wealthy billionaire friends to take a concession! All we ask is for them to just pay their fair share of taxes! That’s all we ask! That would give us the revenue we need.”
Tara Stamps, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher and former candidate for 37th Ward alderman, explained to those gathered the dynamics of the CPS budget crisis. The forces behind the crisis, she said, are the same forces behind the state’s lack of revenue.
“Banks are making billions of dollars on the lives of our children and the same entity is behind all of the discomfort, distress, duress and cuts we’re feeling in our communities from childcare, the senior crisis, foreclosure, privatization of our schools — it is the same entity,” she said, before noting that CPS plans to cut $200 million and lay off 1,400 people, many of whom are paraprofessionals.
Stamps called the support professionals the “backbones” of school buildings, before saying that the CPS cuts and layoffs amount to an attack on “our very lives” and that the current schools’ current financial predicament amounts to a “life crisis.”
“Anybody who has taught in a school, anybody who has had an assistant, you know that paraprofessionals in buildings are the backbones of that building. They know where the bones are buried; they’ve been through administrations; they know where the paper is hidden; they know which family got evicted; who got shot; who got laid off; what baby is really poor; whose daddy just got out of jail—they know everything about the intricacies of that building and we rely heavily on their knowledge.”
Roberta Wilson, 88, was one of those CPS paraprofessionals for more than 30 years. Now retired, the longtime Austin resident said she’s still active in her union and agrees with its logic on privatization.
“When little Johnny has a problem, we run to the charter schools and when little Johnny has a problem, they run him back to the public school,” she said. “I just need to pay taxes for one and that’s for the public school.”
Portia Ball, 78, who was seated next to Wilson is a retired paraprofessional who worked for more than 25 years at a Humboldt Park daycare center.
“When they privatize, we’re the ones who lose the jobs first,” said the Galewood resident. “When they do the charters, they’re money making off the backs of our little black kids. They’re doing it in our neighborhoods, not in white folk neighborhoods.”
Stamps also mentioned CPS’s new student-based-budgeting policy, which entails that funding follows students to whichever schools they attend. This month, after rolling out the FY 2016 budgets for individual schools, CPS announced that funding for traditional neighborhood schools would decline by more than $60 million; at the same time, charter schools would experience a more than $30 million net increase in funding.
Stamps said the transfer of funds of funds from public neighborhood schools to private charter schools is just a piece of a much larger wealth transfer from the hands of the poor and laboring classes and to those of the wealthy.
She described, in detail, how CPS stands to lose millions of dollars from risky auction-rate bond deals entered into since 2003. According to an extensive series of reports by the Chicago Tribune, Bank of America (BofA) officials underwrote four auction-rate deals, worth a total of roughly $1 billion.
The biggest deal, worth $263 million, was issued in September 2007, less than a month after BofA officials were warned that there would be trouble ahead in the bond market, making those auction-rate deals much riskier than normal. When the market collapsed, six months after the deal closed, CPS was stuck with sky-high interest rates from the risky bonds — which they’re still paying down now.
Brown said the BofA’s actions could end up hurting its own employees, many of whom, she noted — for instance, tellers and other low-level workers — rely on CCAP funds.
“They don’t pay them that much, so those workers qualify for this program that [the governor and wealthy interest groups] are trying to take out,” she said.
“The very thing you say you love is the thing you put the least amount of money into,” said Stamps. We pay basketball players, football players millions of dollars, but the people we trust our treasures to, we want to give a penance. You’re talking about banks who have really … they don’t see themselves as human, because they couldn’t. You couldn’t [see yourself as human] and put other human beings in this kind of distress while you get filthy, filthy, filthy rich. What we’re asking is the banks to just pay their fair share.”