Highland News Leader

Praying for funding: Faith-based group wants state childcare assistance money restored

State Rep. Charlie Meier offers a prayer at Monday’s prayer vigil in front of his office. He is joined by United Congregations of Metro-East president Norma Patterson, Mike Berens, a leader with UCM and Mike Schuette, board chair of Catholic Charities of Southern Illinois and about 22 others who attended the vigil. UCM is seeking to overturn new rules put in place by Gov. Bruce Rauner regarding qualifications for childcare assistance.
State Rep. Charlie Meier offers a prayer at Monday’s prayer vigil in front of his office. He is joined by United Congregations of Metro-East president Norma Patterson, Mike Berens, a leader with UCM and Mike Schuette, board chair of Catholic Charities of Southern Illinois and about 22 others who attended the vigil. UCM is seeking to overturn new rules put in place by Gov. Bruce Rauner regarding qualifications for childcare assistance. News Leader

A metro-east faith-based group hopes the power of prayer will persuade lawmakers to vote to overturn new rules put in place by Gov. Bruce Rauner regarding qualifications for childcare assistance.

About 25 members of the United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM) held a one-hour prayer vigil on Monday outside state Rep. Charlie Meier’s office, located at 121 Broadway in Highland.

The vigil came as the House was getting ready to consider Senate Bill 570, a measure to overturn Gov. Rauner’s new childcare assistance rules. A vote had been scheduled for Tuesday, the first day in weeks the House had met. However, late into the afternoon, the vote had yet to occur, and Meier expected the vote to be delayed.

“(House Speaker Michael) Madigan (D-Chicago) is doing usual games with the most needy,” Meier said Tuesday afternoon.

A supermajority of 71 members needed to vote in favor of the bill in order for it to pass. Democrats hold 71 seats in the House.

UCM said it prayed outside the office of Meier, a Republican from Okawville, because he is “known to be someone who thinks and operates independently.”

“He has also stated that he cares about children and other vulnerable people,” a UCM statement said. “However, in a recent meeting with UCM members and childcare workers, he stated that he would not vote to end Gov. Rauner’s harsh childcare assistance rules. He asked us to pray for him, which tells us that he is genuinely torn between his concern for children and loyalty to the governor and the governor’s political party. This prayer vigil is in response to Rep. Meier’s request for prayer.”

UCM believes the new rules for Illinois Childcare Assistance Program eligibility are “harsh and drastic.”

On Monday, Meier met with several UCM members, saying he “understood” their concerns. But he said would not vote for the bill when state is more than $6 billion in debt.

“We need to take care of the children,” he said. “But the problem is the state has no funds left. We need to get a state budget to fund these programs, and move forward.”

Meier said the whole state is going to have to make some cuts.

“We need (more) jobs and those workers paying taxes,” he said. “And that’s what we don’t have in Illinois. The workers we do have in the state are moving out.”

Changing the Rules

Under prior rules, a family of four making less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) could apply and qualify for some subsidy to pay for childcare. The amount of the subsidy was based on the family’s income. However, the new rules tightened the guidelines to 50 percent of the FPL, in addition to raising co-pays.

“As an example, a family of four could previously had made up to $44,863 a year and receive some sort of subsidy. Now that family of four can make no more than $12,125 a year if they wish to receive any assistance for childcare. The new rules have led to a 90 percent diminishment of families qualifying to receive childcare assistance,” a statement from UCM said.

Daycares feel the pinch

The cuts have led to childcare workers being laid off and an estimated 150 childcare businesses around the state closing their doors, according to UCM.

Pam Mueller, who owns, D’z Daycare in Breese and in Carlyle, said her businesses are at risk of closing if Senate Bill 570 is not approved by the House.

Mueller could not attend the prayer vigil Monday, but sent a prepared statement, which was read by Linda Schuette.

“Not only are businesses and and employers like mine are hurting, but children who have been rejected from our quality childcare programs are being hurt,” her statement read.

Mueller said her daycares not only provide a source of income for her and her family, but they also provide work for her employers.

“My business also makes its possible for parents to work and earn an income for their families, while at the same providing a firm foundation for children to excel once they start school. This last statement is not a must in my opinion,” her statement said.

Mueller cited a study backed up by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which evaluated the effects of daycare on various areas of child development on children from birth to school age.

“Their findings indicated that quality daycare has the biggest influence on children’s cognitive and language functioning and social development.”

Mueller said on July 1, her childcare centers had 80 children. But she now has 35 to 40 children.

“I have already had to lay off 10 employees,” she said. “These realities are due to the fact that 29 families who have their children in my centers how now been declined from receiving any childcare assistance.

“Another 10 to 15 families inquired about childcare and are getting a little assistance, but they didn’t apply once they realized that they would be declined anyway,” Mueller added. “Some parents have quit their jobs in order to care for their children at home. Others are continuing to work, but are forced to find someone who will watch their children for a day. This is only adding more chaos to already stressful situations that low wage working parents face.”

Mueller said she is personally carrying for two families who cannot otherwise afford to pay for all of their childcare.

“But I don’t know how long I can continue this and still do payroll for my remaining employees,” she said.

Still no budget deal

The reason for the new rules is the budget impasse between the Democratic-led General Assembly and Republican governor. This fiscal year began July 1, but a budget deal is still not in place. Gov. Rauner employed the new childcare provisions after the stalemate crossed into the new fiscal year. Rauner’s office called the rule changes responsible.

“One of the governor’s first actions in office was to save childcare from the deliberate underfunding by the Democratic majority in the last fiscal year. Now, the administration is taking steps to responsibly manage the state’s finances due to the $4 billion budget hole created by the legislature this year. The governor’s reforms will free up resources to help the most vulnerable and grow the economy,” said Catherine Kelly, spokesperson for Gov. Rauner.

Meier encouraged the UCM to hold a prayer vigil at the capital.

“I have no problem with them holding the prayer vigil in front of my office,” Meier said. “I just wish they would go to Springfield and do the same thing and do it in front of Speaker Madigan’s office. You have to remember, Madigan has the power. He can stop (the ongoing budget impasse) in two days, but he won’t do that.

“I’m trying. I’m doing everything in my power. But it’s not easy,” Meier said.

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