In his recent State of the State address, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called for “a major investment in early childhood education.” According to a 2011 report released by Illinois Action for Children, doing so could save the state up to $530 million annually.
While the rhetoric and numbers are sound, legislators have to recognize that the economic success of working families, and the state, hinges directly upon the accessibility of quality, affordable child care. But, for some parents, access means settling for lower earnings.
In 2011, the State of Illinois decreased the income eligibility level for its Child Care Assistance Program, reducing the availability of quality child care for hard working, low-income families.
Some families immediately lost their subsidized child care, while those still eligible dealt with increased monthly co-payments. Some parents have gone so far as to turn down raises and higher-paying jobs in order to maintain their child care eligibility.
To illustrate: For a parent with two children to qualify, their household income cannot exceed $2,857 a month (roughly $34,000 a year). Making even one dollar more a month increases the cost of monthly child care from $109 to $321, resulting in a net income loss of $10,934 – nearly a third of their annual income.
As Maria Whelan, president of Illinois Action for Children said at a recent meeting, “We do not manage tough times on the backs of our children. When resources are scarce … children eat first!”
The state should not be creating barriers that keep working families in poverty. Increasing the income eligibility level now would guarantee greater educational success and more money in the state’s pocket in the future. Investing in early childhood education, and the future economic success of our state, starts with making quality, affordable child care accessible to all families.
Celena Roldan is executive director of Erie Neighborhood House, www.eriehouse.org a not-for-profit organization that reaches 4,500 people annually, empowering them to build better lives while strengthening their communities. ENH offers Chicago’s Latino and diverse low-income residents a range of community-based education programs.