This post was coauthored by Sessy Nyman, vice president for policy and strategic partnerships at Illinois Action for Children.
There is no other way to describe it — the state budget proposals in Springfield are a disaster for working families and their children.
More than $85 million in truly frightening cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program are proposed in this budget. The CCAP helps low-income parents who need child care to work or go to school. Parents share in the cost of care by making a co-payment based on the family’s income and size, with the state paying the balance based on a provider reimbursement schedule.
These cuts include an on-average 52-percent increase in a parents’ co-payment, a significant reduction in eligibility to qualify for the program — from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent to enter, and the elimination of a scheduled rate increase to center-based providers. This will send thousands of families out of the CCAP and force countless providers to close their doors.
In the long term, less access to child care is also likely to produce a myriad of social problems that result when young children do not get the nurturing care they need.
To make matters worse, these cuts will start a domino effect that ultimately puts low-income families with children at risk of losing valuable early childhood education opportunities.
Many families that are enrolled in the state’s Preschool for All program also receive child-care assistance or participate in Head Start programs. They rely upon child-care assistance to access care for their children before and after their child’s half-day of preschool.
Where will a family send their child after each half-day of preschool if they are no longer eligible for child-care assistance, cannot afford the massive increase in their child-care co-payment, or cannot find child care since so many providers have been forced out of business by budget cuts and late payments from the state?
If child care is cut, there will not be another option for the families that depend on it. If education is cut, we cannot expect our schools to improve. Illinois will clearly violate its constitutional responsibilities to provide for the safety and welfare of its people both now and in the future if these cuts are enacted.
Research, including that of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, shows that every dollar spent on early childhood development, including the years spent in a child-care setting, yields at least eight dollars in return. Indeed, one study after another has concluded that investing in quality early childhood education and care produces a higher rate of return than any other public investment. Illinois willingly refuses that return on investment and the economic impact it brings if it severs the links in the chain of early childhood development.
Moreover, investing in child care creates jobs and stimulates the economy. Every dollar we spend on child-care assistance makes it possible for a single mother to work, creates a job for a caregiver, and enhances the early childhood experience of a child. It also pumps dollars into local communities.
Parents need full-day child-care options in order to participate in the state’s Preschool for All programs that promote this early child development. Illinois’s early childhood system has been designed to provide our highest-risk children with the school readiness opportunities children need, and the full-day child-care options families need to work and contribute to the economy.
Preschool for All, Head Start, and child care work hand in hand to support families today and prepare children for the brightest tomorrow possible.
We live in a society that places a very high value on work and believes that every parent should support their children through work. As a society, we rightfully expect parents to put their children first, even when times are tough. It is time that we, as residents of this state, demand the same from our elected leaders — put our children first, especially when times are tough.