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Child care subsidies among first hit by state budget woes

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Author: 
Brown, Mark
Publication Date: 
14 Jul 2015
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As the budget wrangling goes on in Springfield, some of the first people to feel the pain are low-income families applying for subsidized child care.

Under cost-cutting measures imposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration effective July 1, the state’s child care assistance program has been effectively closed to nearly all new enrollees.

According to advocates, in just the first two weeks more than 2,000 families who would have qualified under previous eligibility guidelines have already been denied access to the program.

These are families who rely on the child care subsidy to make it economically feasible to go to work so that someday they might escape poverty.

A family of four earning $12,132 a year will now make too much money to qualify for the subsidy, a dramatic drop from the previous income ceiling of $44,868.

“The missing piece is: Will they be able to work?” said Jennifer Alexander, program director at Metropolitan Family Services. “We’re decreasing access to some of our most vulnerable people.”

I thought this was something important for everyone to keep in mind when the state payroll goes out on schedule Wednesday, assuring that most state workers will be paid on time.

State paychecks going out might lead some to believe that nothing is really amiss while the state continues to operate without a budget. But that’s not the case.

Most of the work of state government isn’t really performed by state employees but by vendors, many of them nonprofit agencies, working under contract.

Those agencies are suffering as their funding is pulled out from under them, and those problems are expected to become much more severe in the next couple of weeks as they start to run out of funds.

To this point, those agencies have still been getting paid for services performed during the previous state fiscal year that ended June 30.

With the state’s backlog of unpaid bills, that could keep the cash flowing for awhile longer. But for nonprofits that depend on the state’s expedited payment process to keep the doors open, there’s not a lot of wiggle room as they struggle to make payroll.

Erie Neighborhood House, a social service provider with a rich history of serving immigrants from its Near West Side location, is looking at as many as 10 staff layoffs because of state funding issues, a spokesman said.

The agency has state contracts to help immigrants become citizens and to provide job training, English tutoring and afterschool programs for youth. State money accounts for more than a third of its budget.

Erie Neighborhood House also has had to inform 26 families applying for the child care subsidy that they don’t currently qualify but to check back at the end of the summer to see if the rules are relaxed after a state budget is approved.

Although his agency is just a minor player in state funding, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council Executive Director Patrick Brosnan said dozens of at-risk teenagers were left without a summer program after state cuts forced him to lay off one full-time and several part-time workers.

Brosnan is particularly worried about cuts to the state LIHEAP program, which provides subsidies to help poor people pay their electric and gas bills. Without the subsidy, Brosnan anticipates many Brighton Park residents will be facing utility cutoffs in the coming months.

As I keep saying, it’s going to take a state tax increase to resolve the budget problems. Cuts alone won’t do the trick.

A couple of downstate social service providers have had to close their doors while waiting to see if the governor and legislators can sort out their differences.

Before this is over, I expect we’ll start hearing of closures in Chicago too.

-reprinted from Chicago Sun Times 

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Entered Date: 
22 Jul 2015
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