If Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner can offer a $2.25 billion incentive package to lure Amazon’s second North American headquarters, they can afford to provide “universally affordable” child care for all Chicago families and a living wage for providers.
That was the message delivered Wednesday by working parents, child care providers and SEIU Healthcare, the union representing roughly 20,000 home child care providers while attempting to organize workers at child care centers.
Although Emanuel talks a good game about investing in early childhood education and full-day kindergarten, they argued that enrollment is declining and that 130,000 Chicago kids under five lack access to publicly-funded programs.
Rauner was accused of “continuing to attack child care services for working families” and crafting a state budget with a “nearly $60 million reduction in child care funding.”
Brynn Seibert, director of the child care and early learning division of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said child care for an infant “costs as much as a year of college tuition.” That’s unaffordable for working families, she said.
“$2 billion would provide affordable child care for every single child, every single working family in the Chicago metro area,” Seibert said. “We want to see our leaders express the same willingness to invest in children and invest in families that they’re showing in investing in corporations like Amazon.”
She added: “At the same time that child care is unaffordable for working families, child care providers are earning minimum wage or even less. That’s unacceptable.”
SEIU Healthcare and SEIU Local 1 are part of an investor group that recently purchased the Chicago Sun-Times.
Rauner’s spokesperson Patty Schuh made no apologies for the $2.25 billion Amazon incentive package.
“We are competing with other regions and other states to land a major economic development project that puts people to work,” Schuh said Wednesday.
“The more people who go to work, the more people who are available to pay [taxes] to fund our core priorities.”
Schuh attributed the $60 million child care cut to “eligibility re-determination” that must be done every six months.
Still, she argued that the governor “fulfilled his promise to the child care program by expanding eligibility, as he said he would,” despite a budget approved by the Il. General Assembly that was “1.7 billion out of whack.”
Emanuel spokesperson Lauren Markowitz insisted that the mayor has added “1,600 new full-day opportunities” for Chicago kids this year alone, giving “more than 18,000 children access to a full-day of preschool. That’s a 70 percent increase since he took office.
The mayor’s proposed 2018 budget also allocates $1.8 million to help support five new high-quality early education programming sites to accommodate even more kids.
Karen Allen — who attended the rally with protesters carrying “Babies Before Bezos” signs — cares for six children in her Garfield Park home.
Allen was moved to tears as she talked about trying to eke out a living on just $500-a-month or less.
“Sometimes, my check be not even enough to pay my gas or light bill. … My last check was $411. And that’s when the babies were with me for the summer. So, you tell me how am I supposed to make ends meet? I can’t do it.”
Samantha Corzine is a home care provider and a single mom. She cares for her niece, who has special needs, because her sister can’t afford child care.
Corzine homed in on one of Emanuel’s biggest selling points to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: that Chicago is an “affordable city” with a cost-of-living lower than much of the competition.
“I’m here today to tell Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Rauner that it’s not affordable. … I paid $300 in the past for child care every week when my young ones were little,” Corzine said.
Janice Bolling, cares for fourteen children in her Englewood home between the ages of six weeks and 12 years.
She noted that a recent change in the eligibility level for state child care assistance — to 145 percent of the poverty level — made many families ineligible. That change has cost her four children in the past year, as parents can’t afford care any longer.
“We have a lot of parents who may have made maybe even $10 over, who [therefore] could not have child care [assistance],” Bolling said.
“Which means we have brothers and sisters that’s 12 years old, that’s 7 years old … taking care of infants because the parent has to work. Someone has to take care of those children.”
It’s not the first time that the lucrative Amazon incentive package has been a pressure point for protesters.
Last month, the Chicago Teachers Union made a similar argument after joining forces with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) and a coalition of community groups.
They renewed their demand for an employee head tax and for a long-languishing TIF Surplus Ordinance that would re-direct tax-increment-financing dollars to CPS in any year when the Chicago Board of Education is in crisis.