Child care assistance is a critical resource for low-income families. Parents with reliable, affordable child care are able to work, and to work more hours and earn a greater income, than those who do not. Research shows that parents receiving child care assistance have increased earnings of as much as $7,500 per year more than families with less assistance. Unfortunately, child care also represents a significant expense, in particular for low-income workers. The monthly cost of child care in Illinois for a family with a preschooler and a school-age child is $1,469, while the monthly earnings for a family with one minimum wage earner is a mere $1,430. Women working low-wage jobs already struggle with unpredictable schedules, little access to paid leave, and a lack of work supports overall; low-income, working women and their children need the stability that child care assistance provides.
Recent actions by the Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration threaten the availability of the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). In July, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) proposed rules that make changes to the current program, most notably lowering the maximum amount of income a family may have to be eligible for assistance, adding a child support requirement, increasing copays, and increasing the use of criminal background checks for child care providers.
Income eligibility. The proposed rules reduce the income threshold for CCAP from 185% of the federal poverty line (FPL) to an astoundingly low 50% of the FPL for new applicants. As a result, a family of four applying for assistance would need to have income of less than $1,011 per month to be eligible. A single parent earning Illinois’s state minimum wage of $8.25 would need to work fewer than 18 hours per week to earn below the 50% threshold. Although the proposed rules allow current recipients to maintain child care at the 185% income level, the 50% threshold essentially eliminates access to safe and reliable child care for most parents newly seeking assistance. Nine out of ten families that were approved under the previous income guideline of 185% of the FPL will now be denied under the proposed income guideline.
Child support requirement. The proposed rules also require families that include any child in the household with an absent parent to open an active collection child support case for that child with the Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) as a condition of eligibility for CCAP. This is problematic as it poses a significant danger to survivors of domestic or sexual violence who may not want to re-engage with the perpetrator. It also ignores the reality of many CCAP recipients’ family circumstances; often, the noncustodial parent is also poor and either under- or unemployed, and forcing custodial parents to cooperate with child support collection may also upset the fragile balance they have found in keeping the noncustodial parents involved in their children’s lives.
Call to action. IDHS will hold public hearings in Chicago and Springfield to solicit feedback from community members on these proposed rules. We have heard from low-income workers who lost their new jobs because they no longer qualify for CCAP, including domestic violence survivors on the path to financial independence who were forced to return to their abusers once child care assistance was denied. If you have been or could be affected by the proposed rules, or if you are a service provider whose clients are affected, we encourage you to testify at one of the hearings.
Witnesses must bring a written (preferably typed) copy of their testimony to submit to the hearing officer. Each testimony is limited to no more than 10 minutes. You can sign up to testify at the hearing. If you are interested in testifying or are not available to testify but have information to relate, please contact Wendy Pollack, the director of the Women’s Law and Policy Project at the Shriver Center.
The details for the hearings are:
Tuesday, October 6th, 2015
Michael J. Howlett Bldg. Auditorium
Second and Edwards Streets, Springfield, IL
Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Michael A. Bilandic Bldg., Room C-500, 5th Floor
160 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL
For more information on the hearings, please see the IDHS Public Hearings section of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules’ September 4th Flinn Report.
For more information on the proposed changes, see September’s WomanView article.