081815DM0004Lake County News-Sun - Aug. 17, 2015 | Original Article

by Lauren Zumbach

Nykki Harris has two weeks to figure out who will take care of her three week old son before starting a job as a cook and bartender at a golf course.

A few months ago, Harris, a single mom of two from Waukegan, said she would have qualified for a government-subsidized child care program. But cost-cutting measures that took effect in July sharply reduced the amount parents applying to join the Child Care Assistance Program can earn.

Harris said she needs the job to support her family, but she'll be caught between earning too much to qualify for the subsidy, while not earning enough to afford quality child care.

"My cry as a single mother to the government system is to implement something…so parents like myself will be able to go to work, take care of our children, pay our bills, and not just have to be single parents leaning on the state," Harris said at a press conference organized by SEIU Healthcare Illinois, a union representing child care and healthcare workers, State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, and State Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan.

Bush, Mayfield and area childcare providers urged lawmakers to provide more funding for the Child Care Assistance Program while reversing changes they said would leave 10 percent of families once considered eligible able to qualify.

Previously, a family of three earning about $37,000 a year or less would be eligible, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. While families already enrolled in the program will continue receiving subsidized childcare, a family of three applying after the changes took effect July 1 wouldn't qualify unless they earned less than about $10,000 a year.

"Basically, if you are working today, you can't even get minimum wage and be able to get help," said Bush, speaking at a Grandwood Park Park District preschool in Gurnee.

The reduced income eligibility rules tell some parents "we're going to make it more profitable for you to sit at home and collect a check off of the taxpayer," Mayfield said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration said the cuts were needed to try to close the gap in the state's budget, announcing the changes to the Child Care Assistance Program along with other cost-cutting steps in June.

DHS spokeswoman Veronica Vera said the changes don't affect families who are already enrolled, and were part of "difficult decisions" made in an effort to keep the program viable in the future.

The changes include higher copays, background checks for relatives providing child care and a freeze on new applicants to the program except for those meeting certain requirements such as the new income cutoff of 50 percent of the poverty level. The freeze is expected to save $5.3 million per month, Vera said.

But Bush argued removing the program might end up costing more.

"It's child care or welfare," she said. "What do we want to pay for?"

Bush said the state senate passed a bill earlier this month that would undo the eligibility changes. It's now awaiting action in the House.

Two other local childcare providers who spoke at the press conference said they'll be watching the bill's progress closely.

Jose Aguilera, of Waukegan, who runs Khris' Day Care with his wife out of their home, said every family they work with relies on the subsidies to afford child care but wouldn't qualify if they had to reapply under the new eligibility guidelines.

He said he worries low-income parents will be forced to choose between staying home without a job or risk leaving young kids without proper supervision.

He and Juanita Shenault, director of Lee's Family Day Care and Learning Center in Beach Park, said their own businesses will be at risk if kids whose families are already eligible grow out of their programs or move away and they need to find families to replace them.

Aguilera said they have open spots, but when he shows interested families the new subsidy rules, most don't even apply. "Once they see it, they say what's the point?" he said.

View the original article.

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