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Thursday, June 25, 2009 09:41 am

Save the children

Child care service providers are not waiting on lawmakers

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Thousands of protestors, concerned about cuts to social services, greeted lawmakers this week as they returned to Springfield to work on a state spending plan.
PHOTO BY GINNY LEE

Tamara Moore left active duty with the Navy to return to college and spend more time with her three children. One of the factors that influenced her decision to give up a good military salary to work for the Springfield school district was a state program that pays a portion of child care for people who are getting more education to improve their job prospects.

However, Moore and other parents were notified last week that they will have soon have to pay the full cost of child care due to the state’s fiscal situation.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m still going to have to go to work but some activities are going to have to get cut out,” says Moore, a 30-year-old Springfield resident. If eliminating her children’s gymnastics and ballet classes doesn’t save enough, she says she may have to consider taking a mobilization – she remains in the Navy Reserves – just to afford childcare.

Much of the discussion up until now surrounding the ongoing budget impasse has been framed as a question of what happens if the cuts occur, but as Moore and others around the state who rely on childcare providers are finding out, many agencies aren’t waiting on lawmakers to solve the budget the crisis before July 1 when the current fiscal year ends; they’re cutting now.

Advocates for child service providers fear that doing so will put thousands of providers out of business and their employees out of work, as well as force parents who can’t afford to pay for childcare by themselves to lose their jobs.

In addition to the childcare subsidy cuts, reductions are also planned for various home visit, mental health, and other programs for young children and their parents, who are often young. Cutting these services is especially callous because the first few years of life are the most crucial to their overall development, the advocates insist.

“Children are the best investment the state can make in terms of its long-term growth,” says Diana Rauner, executive director for the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago. “It’s not just about being nice to people’s kids; it’s about investing in human capital.”

Under Gov. Pat Quinn’s so-called doomsday budget, all human services will see massive cuts if the legislature doesn’t present a plan to increase revenue. Quinn, who has proposed raising taxes to close the state’s $11.5 billion deficit, called lawmakers back to Springfield to come up with a better spending plan to spare the cuts than the “50-percent” budget passed by the General Assembly in May.

If the stalemate between Quinn and the legislature holds and the state is forced to shut down, already cashed-strapped nonprofits, many with maxed-out lines of credit, will face bankruptcy, Rauner says.

“There’s a huge amount of finger-pointing going on – and it’s all irresponsible,” she says. “It’s obscene that politicians are trying to use poor children and the most vulnerable members of our society as pawns.”

Gaylord Gieseke, interim president of Chicago-based Voices for Illinois Children, says if the cuts go through, taxpayers — and society — would ultimately pay the costs in other ways, such as by adding to the number of people receiving government assistance and the number of children becoming state wards (a 50 percent reduction in payments to foster parents is also contained in the proposal).

Allowing the cuts could also portend spikes in the rate of child and domestic abuse as well as hospital emergency department visits and millions of dollars in federal matching funds would be sacrificed as well, Gieseke adds.
“What no one is calculating is all these [hidden] costs. It boggles my mind as to how to people can be willing to let this happen,” Gieseke says.  

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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