Somewhere along the way I thought we had come to an agreement as a society that it made more sense to subsidize child care for poor working mothers than to leave them at home on welfare.
The kids were better off because the child care services were often combined with preschool programs that gave them an improved educational start.
The mothers were better off because the jobs afforded them an opportunity for upward mobility that would benefit both them and their children in the long run.
That common understanding — once embraced by both Democrats and Republicans — seems to have been thrown out the window by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.
Under new eligibility rules put in place by Rauner effective July 1, an estimated 90 percent of new applicants for the state’s Child Care Assistance Programs will not qualify for services. These are families who previously would have received the subsidy under the old guidelines.
There are about 100,000 families in Illinois participating in the program covering about 168,000 children, so this affects a lot of people.
I told you a little bit about this issue last week, but what I failed to fully appreciate is that this is separate from the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield between Rauner and the General Assembly.
Even if the Legislature were to enact a fully funded budget that the governor would sign, the stricter eligibility rules enacted by Rauner would remain in effect unless withdrawn.
Advocates say it appears to be more of a philosophical switch by the Rauner administration toward dismantling the child care subsidy program.
I use the word “appears” because there has been no public discussion of the governor’s reasoning for rules enacted on an “emergency” basis.
In a fact sheet distributed to reporters, the state Department of Human Services chalks up the moves to managing the state’s budget deficit.
“Our commitment to serve the people of Illinois has not changed, and we continue to assist our clients in achieving the self-sufficiency, independence and health to the maximum extent possible,” the statement says.
But elements of the guideline change suggest something more at work, particularly a new requirement that participants in the program comply with child care support collection programs.
I understand why that type of requirement appeals to people who don’t want fathers to avoid their responsibility, but in the real world, it creates all kinds of complications, especially for women fleeing domestic abuse.
There’s also a new requirement that relatives who provide child care under the program must undergo background checks, which also sounds good, until you tell auntie she has to undergo a background check to take care of the kids.
Most of those being excluded from the program are falling victim to new income eligibility guidelines that slash the amount of money that an applicant can earn.
Some of that is already happening, but the big impact will come in a few weeks when those in preschool programs will cycle into kindergarten and nobody will be allowed to take their place.
That in turn will jeopardize the financial health of the nonprofit organizations that form the backbone of a service delivery system that provides child care services and early childhood education.
I learned from my mail last week there are a lot of people who revert to the old welfare wars on this subject and want to talk about people having children they can’t afford.
Yes, that happens, but the question always becomes: What do you do about the children?
“The children are the ones who are going to suffer,” said Judith Walker-Kendrick, who chairs the Child Care Advisory Council for the state’s Department of Human Services.
In a sharply worded letter sent last week to Rauner and state legislative leaders, Walker-Kendrick and 27 other advisory council members urged all sides to agree on a budget and for Rauner to rescind his policy changes.
“Your recent changes have made it impossible to survive in Illinois if you are a low-income working parent with young children,” the letter states. “We must assume that was never your intent.”
But what is his intent?