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Young mother angry over Rauner veto of child care bill

Tenai Woods says she is struggling to pay for child care for her 2-year-old son. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Tenai Woods is not pleased — to put it lightly — with Gov. Bruce Rauner for vetoing a bill on Friday that would again allow her to receive help from the state to pay for child care for her 2-year-old son, Carter.

“It’s crazy,” said Woods, 27.

Woods, a single mother who works a $15-an-hour job with a nonprofit organization that aids people with developmental disabilities, was notified in July that she makes too much money to continue receiving assistance from the state. She exceeded the threshold by $34, she said.

“My head is barely above water,” the La Grange Park woman said. “It’s like you get a little bit ahead and they cut you off.”

Woods spoke Monday outside the child care center in Bellwood that she can no longer afford. The news conference was held by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago, who co-sponsored the bill, and SEIU Healthcare — a union that represents child care workers — which helped craft and push the bill.

Faith Arnold, who runs the child care facility out of her home and who is providing child care for Woods’ son on credit for the time being, said the veto sends a strong message that Rauner “does not believe in the working class.”

Faith Arnold runs a child care center out of her Bellwood home. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
Faith Arnold runs a child care center out of her Bellwood home. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Woods asked her boss for a pay cut or a cut in hours so she’ll make less money and hopefully again qualify for the day care program, which now costs her $800 a month with no help from the state. The state used to pay $650 of that, Woods said.

The bill would have raised the threshold for the Child Care Assistance Program from 185 percent to 250 percent of the federal poverty level over the next two years.

In November, the state, after issuing an emergency order, lowered the threshold to 162 percent of the federal poverty level. Under the new rule, a single mother with one child would have to earn less than $2,151 in gross income per month in order to qualify for child care assistance.

Rauner explained his veto in a statement to fellow legislators: “The State of Illinois can no longer make spending promises that exceed available revenues. This bill irresponsibly imposes an approximately 40 percent increase in the overall size of the program without any provision to fund such a broad enlargement.”

Contacted for additional comment Monday, a spokeswoman for Rauner pointed to the governor’s previous statement.

According to the statement, the bill would increase the cost of the program by over $200 million in fiscal year 2017 and over $500 million every year thereafter.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois Vice President Brynn Seibert said the bill would have added about 52,000 children to the program.

The bill, Seibert said, would have fully restored cuts made to the program by Rauner last summer and expanded its scope even further.

“Under the current standards, you have to be dirt poor to receive assistance from the state,” Lightford said.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to override that veto,” Lightford said. “But in the event that that does not happen, I’m calling on you, governor, to just join me, join SEIU, let’s sit down, let’s talk about this and come up with a way that we can stop devastating so many young people, so many single families, so many people that are working hard trying to improve their lives to have more self-sufficiency, yet this is what we do as a state. We make it very difficult for them to accomplish their goals.”