Tonight, Feb. 26, State Senator Daniel Biss will face a group of concerned childcare providers who learned only a few weeks ago that the payments they expected to receive through June 30 would be delayed at best because of a $300 million shortfall in the current State budget.

Many are also likely to be concerned about Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which, although it might fill part of the gap if passed, would slash intervention services to young children.

A large part of the shortfall resulted from the failure of, first, the Democrat-led legislature, and second, the newly elected Republican governor to resurrect the income tax increase that expired at the end of last year.

Late last month the people and agencies in Illinois that receive childcare subsidies were notified by the Illinois Department of Human Services that they would “experience a delay in payments for child care services through June 30, 2015. The funding shortfall may also result in service reductions to the Child Care Assistance Program.” The cause of the delay, according to the letter, which also bore Gov. Rauner’s name, is that, “Last year, Governor [Patrick] Quinn signed a budget that did not provide adequate funding to pay the full program costs through the end of the fiscal year.”

Some agencies are likely to receive some funds, said Cass Wolfe, executive director of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, because both federal and state funds comprise the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) funds. Only state funding has run dry; federal funds are still available on a monthly basis. Like many other childcare providers, IWSE is reimbursed on a per-child, per-diem basis, subject to a reevaluation of eligibility every six months, said Ms. Wolfe. IWSE operates Baby Toddler Nursery, 2200 Main St., and Teen Baby Nursery in the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, 2010 Dewey Ave.

“The State is essentially saying, ‘Get in line. You’ll get paid when you get paid.’ So those of us who didn’t get Feb. 15 money are probably not going to get paid on March 15,” Ms. Wolfe said.

“It’s a very tense situation. … It’s not clear, if the State has to cut, how they’re going to cut. … There’s been no direction about what to do,” Ms. Wolfe said.

“The best-case scenario is that payments will be delayed for a few weeks; the worst-case is that they will be delayed for a few months,” said Lindsay Percival, executive director of Childcare Center of Evanston, 1840 Asbury Ave. “We can weather a few months as long as we know we will eventually get paid.”

“Right now we’re just being very careful with our cash flow. As a site-administered program, we have been paid more consistently than [have] others. We have a moratorium on spending – no more new toys. And we rotate our toys, as we always do,” said Ms. Percival.

Noting the discrepancy between state and federal attitudes, Ms. Percival said, “The story from Washington is that they want to put money into child care but the state is not doing that.”

At Reba Early Learning Center, 740 Custer Ave., Administrative Director Darcy Carter said 40% of the families receive a childcare subsidy. The current situation “puts a lot of families in an unsettling position – as well as centers,” Ms. Carter said.

There is a bleak outlook at Toddler Town, 1501 West Howard St., as well. Angelo Nikolov, owner and director of Toddler Town, said 90% of the families – counting both the Chicago and the Evanston locations – receive childcare subsidies. “What happens next depends on how much savings people have, their loans and how their banks will treat them.” The State, he said, “needs to do something.”

Whether the State will in fact restore some CCAP funding – and whence the money will come – is not clear. On Feb. 18, the day Gov. Rauner presented his proposed budget, Ounce of Prevention sent a letter to childcare providers that said in part, “While we have concerns about the FY2016 plans for CCAP, we were pleased to hear that the governor and General Assembly are close to resolving the FY2015 budget deficit for CCAP. Child care services have already been affected by delayed payments, and care for children will be severely compromised without immediate action.”

Diana Mendley Rauner, Gov. Rauner’s wife, is president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership that, according to the Ounce of Prevention website, “prepares children for success in school and in life.”

The letter was critical of two of the Governor’s proposed changes in the Early Intervention (EI) and CCAP programs, saying “the administration did outline deeply-concerning program changes to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and Early Intervention (EI) program for FY2016.

Those changes include: for CCAP, freezing intake for children over the age
of 6, increasing parent co-payments and eliminating payments for children cared for by relatives;  for EI, increasing the extent to which a child must exhibit
developmental delays to be eligible for services from 30% delay to 50% delay.

“In addition to our strenuous opposition to these cuts to early childhood services, we are also opposed to many other proposed cuts in health, social service and education programs that would directly impact vulnerable children and families and their communities,” the letter said.

“While we have concerns about the FY2016 plans for CCAP, we were pleased to hear that the governor and General Assembly are close to resolving the FY2015 budget deficit for CCAP. Child care services have already been affected by delayed payments, and care for children will be severely compromised without immediate action. 

“The governor’s proposed budget makes it clear that the FY2016 budget deficit cannot be balanced through program cuts alone without harming essential state priorities such as early childhood. Sustainable revenue is necessary to support programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable children and families.”

Ms. Wolfe appeared to agree with that last sentiment: “We have a revenue problem,” she said, “not a spending problem.”