Every weekday, I leave the office at 2 p.m. to pick up my children and drop them off at their afterschool program. Over the next two and half hours I’ll make two round-trips, to six different schools.
Each time, the children tumble out of the vehicle and rush into a warm building full of teachers who care deeply about them and want to instill a life-long love of learning. I’m filled with joy and remorse, however, because I don’t know how long it will last.
“My children” are not biologically mine. They are the children entrusted in my care as the director of an early childhood center in Edgewater. However, the State of Illinois’ budget impasse is taking a toll on our staff and as a result, I now have become the van driver.This is in addition to my primary job function mentoring staff, working with parents and leading the development of curriculum for our children.
Our kids vary in appearance, culture and family size. Almost half of our parents receive subsidies from the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and are able to enroll in a high-quality center like ours only because of the government support. These are low-income working families who want — and deserve — nothing but the best for their children.
Unfortunately, on July 1 the Illinois Department of Human Services, operating under a set of emergency rules put into place by Gov. Bruce Rauner, drastically changed the CCAP eligibility requirements. Parents used to be able to earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level and be eligible for a subsidy. Now, only families earning 50 percent of the poverty level qualify. Other restrictions put into place under these emergency rules further decrease the number of families who qualify.
At the One Hope United Edgewater Early Learning Center, where I work, the cuts have been devastating.
Nadou, for example, is a parent who recently inquired about enrolling her children in our center. She was denied a CCAP subsidy because her family income was above the 50 percent limit. For perspective, a family of four at 100 percent above the federal poverty level averages an income of $24,250 a year — living on about $66 a day.
Without CCAP, an already disenfranchised community is forced to suffer an even greater margin of uncertainty. Our center in Edgewater doesn’t simply provide childcare. We teach our children development skills needed to be successful in life. CCAP also provides the independence parents need to work and ensure their children are well taken care of. The faces of families who need the subsidy is multi-faceted and can very well be your neighbor.
Gov. Rauner and the state Legislature must work immediately to pass a legal budget. It won’t make everything perfect immediately, but it will start to reverse some of the damage that has been done since July 1. I’ll be able to pick up the phone and tell a potential new family that, yes, they qualify to enroll their child at our center. The parents will be able to keep working, knowing their child is in a safe, nurturing environment.
But what if the budget impasse drags on? What if we find ourselves without a budget another three months from now? Then I’ll invite every elected official to travel to my center, look my children and teachers in the eyes, and explain to them why political gridlock is more important than education and opportunity.
I bet not a single one of them will take me up on my offer.
Ericka K. Farag is director of the One Hope United Edgewater Early Learning Center.
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