Child Care Advocates Seek Investigation Into Program Changes

Watch the video: Covering the cost of child care just became harder for thousands of Illinois families.


There are new rules this summer surrounding child care for low-income families in Illinois.

On July 1, the Illinois Department of Human Services' Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) changed its co-payment structure and put a partial freeze on new applicants. The program will also start conducting background checks on relatives who provide child care.

Child care advocates say that the changes–which they argue are not connected to the state budget impasse in Springfield–will eliminate 90 percent of new program applicants from eligibility. 

Those who are eligible will pay more out-of-pocket costs for child care, as their co-pays have increased. A number of advocacy organizations have filed a complaint against DHS requesting the rules be reversed and are seeking an investigation.

The complaint, filed by Illinois Voices for Children, states, in part:

Our complaint is based on the failure of the Department of Human Services to follow procedures required by the Illinois Administrative Rules Act for the lawful adoption of emergency rules, and the Department’s disregard for the health, safety, and welfare of Illinois citizens.

Further, we question the use of the emergency rule making process on an issue that has so clear an impact on the public as a whole, who deserve an opportunity to voice their concern prior to the implementation of such a sweeping change to a basic function of government. 

Read the full complaint.

Photos: Casa Central’s Early Learning Center in Humboldt Park serves 101 children. Forty percent of its income comes from the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

  • (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

    (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

  • (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

    (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

  • (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

    (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

  • (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

    (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

  • (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

    (Brandis Friedman / Chicago Tonight)

Impact on local families

Sandra Torres and her two-and-a-half year-old daughter Seylah are able to play in a classroom in Humboldt Park today, but Torres has recently learned that her daughter won’t be able to attend this particular early learning program anytime soon.

For the last seven months, Torres has been putting together child care piecemeal.

“I don’t have anybody to take care of my daughter,” Torres says. “I’ve been asking people from my church, can you watch her a couple of days for me … Asking friends to watch her for me until I get a place that she can be stable there every day,” she said.

She says this child care center, operated by social service agency Casa Central, would have been perfect.

But under new rules implemented by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), Torres’ income is too high to qualify for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which subsidizes child care costs for low-income families.

The new rules took effect July 1, raising eligibility requirements.

Under them, families must fall into one of four categories.

  • Those headed by teen mothers, working to earn their GED or diploma
  • Families of children with special needs
  • Those receiving the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant
  • Families at 50 percent of the poverty level or less

“A working family has to work 25-30 hours a week but can only make 50 percent of the federal poverty level,” explains Amanda McMillen of Casa Central. “That means that a family of two, typically last year could make about $25,000 a year and still qualify for child care. Now they can only make $645 a month, which is less than even the state minimum wage.”

Child care advocates say the new rules eliminate 90 percent of new families who would otherwise be eligible for assistance.

Ireta Gasner of Ounce of Prevention says the number of families still using TANF, for example, has dropped over the years, meaning that fewer people will meet that requirement.

“Part of it has been because we've incentivized low-income folks to go to work,” Gasner says. “The deal was, we're going to allow you some of the supports you’re going to need -- like child care -- in order to be successful in employment, and that is really best for families and kids in our state. This change really disincentivized the participation and work, and, frankly, doesn’t just disincentivize it, it makes it kind of impossible.”

Illinois Action for Children says that since the laws took effect, 2,000 cases have been denied. The state receives an average of 5,000 applicants each month.

“We know that many, many of the families in this program are working multiple part-time jobs, and going to school,” says the advocacy group’s Maria Whelan. “These are families who are doing what we as a state, we as a society have said we need you to do. We want you to be productive, we want you to be self-sufficient and we will help you with your child care.”

And it’s happening at a critical time for centers like Casa Central.

“When we have currently over 80 children transitioning into kindergarten, or out of our child care programs and our school-aged program, and we need to fill all of those slots with new kids that need these services,” says McMillen.

The Illinois Department of Human Services says in a statement that “the Rauner administration has taken a series of management steps in order to manage the budget as passed by Speaker Madigan and the General Assembly.” (Read our full exchange, below.)

“In the absence of structural reforms, difficult decisions were made in order to ensure the viability of the programs that serve our state’s most vulnerable.”

IDH says the state stands to save $5.3 million a month under the new eligibility requirements.

Advocates say they’re not sure if these changes will be rolled back once a budget is passed in Springfield. But by then, the damage will have been done for families like Sandra Torres.

IDHS response

We reached out to the Illinois Department of Human Services to ask questions about the recent changes. Read the full email responses from communications director Veronica Vera, below. 

Why was it necessary to change the eligibility requirements and copays for CCAP?

The Rauner administration has taken a series of management steps in order to manage the budget as passed by Speaker Madigan and the General Assembly. In the absence of structural reforms, difficult decisions were made in order to ensure the viability of the programs that serve our state’s most vulnerable.

Is DHS saving money with these changes? How much is estimated?

The state is projected to save $47 million annually on background checks and copays, and an additional $5.3 million per month from freezing intakes to the Child Care Assistance Program.

Have providers given any feedback about how these changes are working for them and families?

IDHS makes every effort to keep the lines of communication open so that providers remain informed as to changes and how it may affect them.

Since these changes were made in order to manage the budget, could there be any adjustments to the changes once a budget is passed and signed?

Until there is a balanced budget in place, IDHS cannot comment on whether the changes will be modified or made permanent.

Does DHS have any response to the complaint filed July 30 by Voices for Illinois Children requesting DHS to rescind the emergency rule?

IDHS is strongly committed to serving our state’s most vulnerable population. Part of that commitment means making difficult decisions to ensure that our programs continue to operate under a responsible, fiscally sustainable budget. We implore Speaker Madigan to put an end to the uncertainty these families face and pass a balanced budget that will allow us to continue serving our clients.

Join us Tuesday on Chicago Tonight for more.