Op-Ed: Tell the Governor to Stand by His Stated Priorities and Restore the CCAP Guidelines
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2015 | Chicago, IL
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s quiet decision to drastically change the income guidelines for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) three months ago is about to make a whole lot more noise for working families in Illinois—and the vital human services put in place to support them.
Here at Erie Neighborhood House on Chicago’s near west side, the end of summer signifies a season of transition as eligible children in our preschool matriculate into kindergarten and a new class of two- through five-year-olds enters the program.
But when the school year begins next Tuesday for students in the Chicago Public Schools, nearly 60 spots in our nationally accredited preschool program will go unfilled as a result of the governor’s new guidelines.
Consequently, we will be forced to close two entire classrooms and potentially lay off several valued teachers. This plight is not unique to us, as fellow childcare providers across the city and state are faced with similarly dire circumstances.
Just how drastic were the changes to CCAP income guidelines? Previously a working family of three could earn up to $3,098 per month—just over $37,000 annually—and receive a subsidy to help pay for childcare. Under the new limits, that monthly income level is capped at just $838, or approximately 50% below the federal poverty line.
It is estimated that 90% of working families previously eligible for the CCAP subsidy no longer qualify for assistance under the new guidelines.
The ramifications are devastating for the working poor: Many parents will be forced to quit their jobs in order to care for their children, an outcome that undermines the very reason the CCAP was established in the first place—to ensure low-income parents achieve self-sufficiency by going to work and providing for their families.
Furthermore, thousands of at-risk children in Illinois will no longer have access to the developmentally appropriate instruction designed to equip them with the foundational skills and knowledge that is so essential to their success in school.
All of this in spite of the fact that Gov. Rauner’s “Shake up Springfield” campaign last fall promised to reinvigorate the state’s economy and make education a priority.
And while it may be convenient—and, in light of the deficit he inherited, justifiable—for Gov. Rauner to deflect blame for our state’s ongoing budget woes, he alone decided to change the CCAP guidelines, without pressure from Democrats or Republicans in the General Assembly.
We at Erie House believe that decision was shortsighted and ill-advised.
The Child Care Assistance Program isn’t a handout; it’s a critical resource that empowers working parents and helps the state secure a more productive and reliable workforce and a healthier tax base. In short, the CCAP is fundamentally good for the state economy.
The return on investment in early childhood education cannot be ignored, either. Securing affordable, quality childcare will produce future dividends that far outweigh the upfront costs, ranging from a greater number of high school and college graduates equipped to compete in the job market to less dependency on social services and lower incarceration rates.
The changes Gov. Rauner made were an emergency measure, but he has the ability to reverse that measure in light of its projected devastating impact on working families.
We are therefore urging the people of Illinois to tell Gov. Rauner to stand by his stated priorities and restore the CCAP guidelines to their previous levels.
This is one action that doesn’t rely on politics; all it requires is a vision for a stronger, healthier Illinois and the courage to do the right thing.
Celena Roldán-Moreno is the executive director at Erie Neighborhood House, a social service agency serving low-income families in Chicago’s West Town, Humboldt Park and Little Village neighborhoods.