A young mother with a baby wants to go back to college to finish her degree so she can be a productive, self-sufficient resident of Evanston. Under the new eligibility guidelines for Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), this mother will not be able to receive financial assistance for child care. If a mother with one child wants to take a job or go back to college and needs child care assistance, she cannot make more than $664 a month. Additionally, she cannot accept a raise or promotion because she will be “over guide line” and lose her assistance.

With Governor Rauner’s changes to the CCAP, these scenarios are all too common. It is a Catch 22.  Work and receive more than $664 a month and receive no child care assistance, or do not work and become eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and get child care assistance.  Before these changes took effect this spring, a family with one child could earn $2,456 a month and receive some assistance from CCAP.  Families already in the program still receive CCAP money under the old guidelines.  It is new families or families returning to the program that feel the impact of these changes.

For the child care centers in Evanston that accept CCAP, the future is fragile. Currently, there are children with CCAP support thriving at our centers, but when they graduate and move onto kindergarten, who will be there to take their place? There are five centers that accept CCAP in Evanston: Child Care Center of Evanston (70% of its enrollment), Infant Welfare Society (75%), Toddler Town (95%), Reba Early Learning Center (45%), and Kindercare (80%), representing 362 of the 654 CCAP open cases in Evanston alone.  Without CCAP, many of these centers will need to cut their staff or even close their doors. 

Without CCAP, parents resort to cobbling together a system of multiple caregivers. Brain research tells us babies come into the world learning at a rapid rate and that it is important that the care and education they receive is of the highest quality. The architecture of the brain is affected by every experience in the 2,000 days between birth and the first day of kindergarten. For all young children it is vitally important that they bond with their caregiver and feel secure in order to learn. They cannot do that with the stress and inconsistency that multiple caregivers creates.

Child care centers in Evanston are an important business and provide economic stability to the community. There are approximately 100 teachers and staff at these centers, with their taxes and spending dollars coming into our community.  Early child care definitely benefits the children and their families who are served, but it also enhances the economic vitality of our community.  Losing these child care businesses would not only hurt the children and their families but the business community.

Supported child care is the mechanism that supports early learning and family work. Without it we keep families in poverty and reliant on the State for help. “Every dollar spent saves taxpayers up to $13 in future costs.” (“Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment,” 2005)  The centers in town see success every day, not just for the children but for the parents.  They take internships or low-paying jobs to get experience so that they can take better jobs and eventually need no assistance.  Our children learn skills in numeracy and literacy as well as important social skills that help them to succeed in grade school and later learning.  Our learning centers are for children and parents alike.

On Sept. 24 there will be a vote in the State Senate to repeal the new guidelines so a family of four earning $3,098 a month or less will continue to get child care assistance.  SB750 offers our young children high quality care and education so they are prepared to enter kindergarten and stability for the qualifying families as they work and go to school. Please join us in asking our Senators to support SB750 so we continue to invest in the future of Illinois.

The childcare providers who collaborated on this essay are Tessa Beelow, director of Kindercare; Darcy Carter and Bettye Cohns, directors of Reba Early Learning Center; Angelo Nikolov, owner, Toddler Town; Helen Hilken, board president, and Stephen Vick, executive director, of Infant Welfare Society of Evanston; Elizabeth Holding, board president, and Lindsay Percival, executive director, Child Care Center of Evanston