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Illinois must reset priorities

Is child care an essential government service?

Illinois and the federal government definitely have made it one. In Illinois about 100,000 low-income families receive child care assistance, and there is no limit to the number of families who could participate. If parents work or go to school and meet the income and other eligibility requirements, they are guaranteed a child care subsidy.

The subsidy is so attractive to parents that some of them have turned down promotions or raises at work just so they wouldn’t lose it. A parent who has no income would have a co-pay of just $2 a month, with the co-pay increasing on a sliding scale.

It is so attractive to child care providers that some of them factor it into their operating equation. One local day care provider told us that serving only non-subsidy clients would not be an attractive option for her.

Illinois’ fiscal crisis offers the opportunity to take a fresh look at this and other programs. Child care is going to be short about $300 million this fiscal year, which ends in June. Does Illinois take money from other programs and services to keep this one fully funded? Does it tighten the eligibility requirements and increase parents’ co-pay to lower the costs? Even the suggestion of cutbacks has participants and providers howling.

The truth is, Illinois has more programs considered essential than it has money to spend. If child care isn’t a program to cut, what is?