Evanston child care funding stalls with $300 million state deficit looming

Kevin Mathew, Copy Chief

State funding will likely freeze for local child care programs as a $300 million deficit in program funding looms.

State funding for the Childcare Network of Evanston could be in jeopardy because no state fix for the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program deficit is in progress. Last week, the CNE received a letter warning the organization that state funding payments could be significantly delayed or dropped.

CNE places low-income families with child care centers, and has committed to continue paying centers through February until state funding is solidified. CNE executive director Andrea Densham said the short-term solution is necessary because services benefit both to the economy and low-income families.

“It’s critically important for families to have stability and to be able to put their children in reliable high-quality child care … so they can continue to rise and build their way out of poverty,” Densham said. “This is a smart investment for our communities if we’re trying to help build a solid middle class.“

According to a CNE news release, low-income families must allocate about 30 percent of their income to child care, while families above the national poverty level allocate about 8 percent.

Illinois Action for Children provides advocacy and research to support subsidized child care for low-income families. IAC will send valentines made by children to state officials next week before a Springfield rally Feb. 19 addressing the issue.

The budget made last spring originally created about $200 million in deficit, and IAC president and CEO Maria Whelan anticipated a fall supplemental to ease that deficit. But a fall bailout never came, and a new child care management system required more spending and created another $100 million in deficit.

“Basically the Child Care Assistance Program has spent all of its general revenue funds, its state money, and is now operating on federal money only,” she said.

State officials heard testimony at an Illinois Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Thursday. The crisis was acknowledged, but no path to a solution was agreed upon. Gov. Bruce Rauner has been mostly silent on financial fixes, but Densham said his State of the State address Wednesday was promising.

“Our budget will increase funding for early childhood education so that more at-risk children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed,” Rauner said in the address. “From cradle to career, our children’s education needs to be our top priority.”

However, Rauner was addressing the next fiscal year, and both CNE and IAC emphasized immediate action. CNE is asking supporters to sign a petition or submit testimonies on Child Care Assistance Program use in the Evanston area and planning a childhood education forum for late February. IAC is urging residents to contact local representatives to push for immediate funding and avoid cuts in program services.

Whelan said the IAC wants current solutions before looking ahead to 2016.

“The only solution is to identify revenue and pass the supplemental … so that low-income working families can continue to work and take care of their kids,” she said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated for clarity at 3:45 p.m. Feb. 7.

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