Illinois lawmakers debate $1 monthly copayments for child care

Monday, March 08, 2021 10:55 AM | Anonymous

SPRINGFIELD – A House committee will continue to explore ways to extend Illinois' $1 child care copays for low-income families now that Gov. JB Pritzker's executive order granting them has expired.

House Bill 141, sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, would make the temporary benefit permanent for families whose income is at or below 185 percent of the most recent federal poverty guidelines based on family size.

The bill advanced to the floor on a 9-2 vote Friday with Ford noting his intent to return to committee with an amendment.

The benefit was offered to low-income families after the Pritzker administration provided $270 million in funding to child care providers as part of the state’s federally-funded Business Interruption Grant Program, along with additional funding from federal coronavirus relief packages.

The funding allowed the state's child care to continue to operate, while families, many of which were facing economic instability caused by the pandemic, benefited from a $1 monthly copay.

Copayment for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program is traditionally determined by income and family size.

The Illinois Department of Human Services requires that the copayment be no more than 9 percent of an individual’s income, according to Beata Skorusa, a child care advocate and owner and director of a Montessori school in Chicago.

For example, Skorusa said, a single mom with two children in her program would pay a $196 copayment per month for child care services, but the rate varies for each family. Skorusa was one of two witnesses to testify in Friday’s committee hearing.

With the expiration of the executive order, the monthly copayment for child care services returned to regular rates at the end of February.

Pritzker could extend the program by executive order, the committee said, depending on whether the state receives more federal coronavirus relief funding.

Committee members said they preferred legislative policy to executive orders in addressing the ongoing concerns of child care accessibility in the state.

“This bill is actually a jobs bill because a mother or a father that receives child care assistance has to be in school, or they have to be in work,” Ford said. “And so we hope that we respect the frontline workers that have carried this state during the pandemic and realize how important it is to make sure that every child has access to high quality child care.”

Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he is concerned about how the state will pay for this.

“If we are going to supplement those funds ... we want a good idea, a good handle on what those costs will actually be,” Sosnowski said. “I know it's not an ultra-lucrative business model in the child care industry and so when you do have to waive those funds, or they're not supplemented by the CARES Act or the state, if you lose 5 percent of income, it can be detrimental to those facilities. They operate on a very thin margin.”

There is no cost estimate yet because the numbers would be based on pre-COVID rates, Ford said. He added that the number of individuals still reliant on unemployment benefits and welfare because the pandemic also impacts the accuracy of data.

Ford said he plans to work with IDHS to confirm the cost before bringing the bill back to the committee with an amendment.

He said he wants the committee to be in agreement before the bill goes to a full vote, but there was still some pushback.

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, also raised concerns about the possible impact the bill could have on child care providers in the state.

“It seems like we're really putting the day care providers in a lurch because they're not getting the copay, but there's no guaranteed funding source from the state once the CARES Act money goes away,” said Mazzochi. “So I would feel very uncomfortable about eliminating the copay, unless the state will step in.”

Skorusa said she believes the state already has at least some money to support this because of a dramatic decline in participation in the Child Care Assistance Program.

“The last time CCAP participation was down this much was after the 2015 budget crisis, and it didn't recover until just pre-pandemic in 2019,” Skorusa said. “It took four years to recover, and the numbers weren't even this bad after that crisis.”

She said participation, according to data from IDHS and the governor's office, is down 45 percent for infants and toddlers and 35 percent for preschool aged children.

“Permanently reducing the copay to the dollar will help families come back to providers, it will also put community-based organizations on a level playing field with district schools,” Skorusa said. “It will be one of the Band-Aids that helps to ensure that the child care industry survives this pandemic.”

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