Gov. Bruce Rauner expands child care eligibility amid budget negotiations

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

After making cuts to state-funded child care eligibility at the beginning of July, Gov. Bruce Rauner expanded the scope of the program Monday, allowing child care centers in Evanston to provide services to families they originally had to turn away.

The governor took unilateral action July 1 to cut eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program from 185 percent above the poverty line to 50 percent below poverty. Amid negotiations over the state budget, Rauner’s office announced on Monday that eligibility would rise to 162 percent of the federal poverty level.

“I’m going to be very happy informing my day care providers and my staff that we’re going to be able to offer care to more families,” said Lindsay Percival, Child Care Center of Evanston’s executive director.

After Rauner narrowed the eligibility on July 1, Percival said parents who sought child care for newborn babies in the organization’s home day care program were hardest hit. In total, Percival’s staff had to turn away about 25 families from their services.

Making the decision to expand eligibility independent from legislators, Rauner continues to argue against a piece of legislation the Illinois House of Representatives considered Tuesday that would have restored CCAP eligibility back to 185 percent of the poverty level. The bill failed to pass out of the House by a single vote.

Higher child care co-pays built into July’s emergency rule will remain intact for now, but the Rauner administration said other restrictions will be lifted “pending further review and legislative consultation.”

Rauner’s office said in a news release that the Senate bill would have carried with it “unintended consequences and costs.” The General Assembly is not scheduled to meet again before the end of the year.

Enactment of the Senate bill would have offered families and child care providers a sense of stability that Rauner’s unilateral decision did not, said Andrea Densham, executive director of Childcare Network of Evanston. Although Rauner’s amended rule will allow CNE to enroll families that were not previously eligible, there is no assurance that the changes will be permanent, Densham said.

“What we need is for this to be the end of child care assistance being a political football, and I am not confident that this is the end of that,” she said. “The administration can choose to change this again, and that is a very unstable place to be.”

Although Rauner’s announcement was something child care providers across Illinois could celebrate, the victory was bittersweet considering eligibility requirements are still beneath what they were before this summer, said Samir Tanna, an official with Illinois Action for Children, a child care public policy and advocacy organization. The governor likely chose the new eligibility figure because it is near 50 percent of the state’s median income, Tanna said.

At a town hall meeting in Evanston on Monday, state Rep. Robyn Gabel said she hopes Rauner’s compromise on state-funded child care indicates a coming resolution to the larger budget impasse.

“Finally the governor is hearing that we need to resolve this budget issue and move forward,” Gabel said.

However, Percival said the relief she felt from Rauner’s Monday morning announcement was tempered by stories told at the town hall meeting later that night of how members of the community have had their social services revoked during the state budget impasse.

“It didn’t feel like we should be hooting and hollering that we’re so happy we got our money,” she said.

Marissa Page contributed reporting.

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