Highland News Leader

Child care assistance Bill fails in House by one vote

State Rep. Charlie Meier offers a prayer at a prayer vigil in front of his office in Highland on Oct. 19. He was 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 was 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 a prayer vigil in front of his office in Highland on Oct. 19. He was 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 was seeking to overturn new rules put in place by Gov. Bruce Rauner regarding qualifications for childcare assistance. mhodapp@bnd.com

A day after Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner abandoned his overhaul of the state’s child care assistance program, the House failed to pass a bill on Tuesday of last week that would have permanently reversed his cuts — and limited the governor’s powers in the future.

Senate Bill 570 failed 70-35. A supermajority of 71 members was needed to vote in favor of the bill in order for it to pass. Democrats hold 71 seats in the House.

Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) voted against the bill, which would have restored full funding for state-subsidized child care for low-income working parents.

Meier said the bill was “unnecessary,” citing the governor’s bipartisan “compromise” made on child care assistance just a day earlier.

“It’s kind of sad that on the day after the bipartisan agreement is reached, the Democrats were still trying to force this bill through,” he said. “…I have never been against child care. But I just have been trying to find the funds to get it worked through.”

Before July 1, a mother of two had to have an income limit of 185 percent of the federal poverty level — $37,176 a year — to qualify for child care assistance.

Under the changes announced on Monday of last week, the income limit for a comparable family rises to 162 percent of the poverty level — or $32,556.

On July 1, Rauner imposed new rules that sharply restricted who qualifies for state child care assistance, making 90 percent of those who previously applied ineligible.

Last week’s vote by the House came about a month after about 25 members of the United Congregations of Metro East (UCM) held a one-hour prayer vigil outside Meier’s office at 121 Broadway in Highland.

Meier even participated in the Oct. 19 rally. But he later met privately with several UCM members, saying he he understood their concerns. But he insisted the state needs to have a balanced budget.

Meier reiterated that point that point during an interview Thursday afternoon.

“I do believe in the power of prayer,” he said. “But (during the vigil), it seemed like they were aiming everything at the Republican side. The state, however, is broke, and we all have to make compromises.”

Rauner’s about-face on child care was announced just as child care providers, advocates, and low-income parents were turning up the heat on the Illinois General Assembly to reverse an enrollment freeze that, they claim, had prevented 90 percent of eligible low-income families from accessing the child care they so desperately needed.

After Tuesday’s session, likely the last time the House will meet in 2015, Rauner’s office issued a statement, thanking the General Assembly for its actions, saying the state is now “able to move forward on providing child care for working families in a more financially-responsible way.”

Meier’s expects budget not to be finalized in ’15

The reason for the new childcare assistance eligibility 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.

Rauner employed the new childcare provisions after the stalemate crossed into the new fiscal year. Rauner’s office called the rule changes responsible.

Meier, however, said he does not expect there will be a budget passed by the end of the current calendar year.

“But I’m more optimistic, and expect that the budget will be approved in February or March,” he said.

Meier said if it were up up to him, however, he’d like to see the state adopt a two-year budget to give the state more time to work through its problems.

“Who knows what the future holds? Right now, we have to get jobs and businesses created in Illinois,” Meier said.

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