Day care providers take budget hit
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' budget crunch is taking a toll on thousands of day care providers and families in a state-subsidized child care program, and it could last for several months.
The state Department of Human Services has informed child care providers it has no more money to pay them through June 30 for the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps pay day care costs for working and student families, and a payment delay is immediately in effect starting with April payments.
Providers were notified they shouldn't expect to be paid again until July after the Legislature approves the 2013 budget.
Department of Human Services spokeswoman Januari Smith said the state needs $73.6 million to pay child care providers through the end of the fiscal year.
Additional funds to make up the shortfall have been requested from the General Assembly, but no more money has yet been forthcoming, said Kelly Kraft, a budget spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn.
"I had three mommies leave this morning crying," Paula Rebman, a longtime home day care operator in Urbana, said Thursday after being notified by the state.
Rebman said payments for half the eight children she provides care for at her home come through the state program.
With typical backlogs, Rebman said, she doubts she'll see any payments before August.
She plans to keep her day care home open and is struggling to keep the state clients she has, she said. But she's also told parents they'll have to come to some resolution with her.
"I can't work without pay and they can't go to work without care," she added.
The child care program subsidizes the cost of day care for eligible parents who are working or in school, and parents make a copayment depending on their income, according to Brenda Eastham, director of operations at the University of Illinois Child Care Resource Center.
There are 2,000 day care centers, both licensed and license-exempt, in the six counties (Champaign, Douglas, Vermilion, Iroquois, Macon and Piatt) in the UI center's service area, she said.
Kraft said the state is out of money to pay day care providers because they're paid from the same fund that pays the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and TANF has exhausted funds for the fiscal year.
Demand on TANF has grown, and federal law requires that TANF be paid first, she said.
There were more than 49,435 TANF cases in March 2012 — more than 7,000 more than there were in March 2011 — at a cost of more than $14.5 million, according to information provided by Human Services.
"That said, with child care, we are working diligently with the General Assembly to get this situation resolved," Kraft said.
In March alone, the state spent $77 million on the Child Care Assistance Program, according to Smith
One local mother of two, Jessica Simpson of Urbana, has already had to start thinking about some hard choices.
The SNAP outreach coordinator for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and outreach coordinator at her church, Simpson says the state program pays half the cost of keeping her 3-year-old daughter at Rebman's home day care.
"If she doesn't get paid, then I have no day care. If I don't have day care, I can't work. So there are just going to be some hard choices that are going to have to be made in order for me to keep my child in day are so I can work and provide," she said.
Not only that, Simpson said, she's facing medical expenses.
"I would hate for it to become a choice between medicine and child care," she said.
Moving her child somewhere else is also a choice she doesn't want to face. Her daughter, born prematurely, is thriving in Rebman's care while she is at work, she said.
"When we found Miss Paula, it was like having a professional day care center. Her whole home is dedicated to the children," she said.
Rebman has high academic standards, but she also bakes cookies with the children, does project with them, has a back yard play area and parties for the kids and their families. And her daughter is very happy there, Simipson says.
"Miss Paula loves the children that she is connected with," Simpson added. She still has children that she has been with as a baby come back and visit her. She is just an amazing woman."
Eastham said the payment delay isn't the only bad news in store for parents on the state subsidy.
Eligibility has already been cut, from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 185 percent, and in Quinn's proposed budget, "they're talking about taking it down to 150 percent," she said.
For a family of four, the 2012 federal poverty level is $23,050 in annual income.