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Helping low-income families: Ford hopes to make pandemic child care payment plan into law

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A Democratic state lawmaker hopes to make payments for childcare services easier on families struggling to get by. Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) says Illinois families living in poverty should only have to pay $1 per month for child care.

The Pritzker administration lowered childcare payments for eligible families to $1.25 for the first two months of this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford wants to make this emergency idea a law. His proposal for a $1 monthly co-pay would only be in place for families with income at or below 185% of current federal poverty guidelines.

Ford says families should be able to send their children to child care and keep more money to pay bills and put food on the table.

“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,” Ford explained.

98,000 children enrolled in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) in December. Still, advocates say participation in CCAP is down significantly. In fact, data from the Department of Human Services showed a 45% decrease for infants and toddlers and a 35% drop for preschoolers in the program. Advocates feel permanently reducing the co-pays to a dollar will help more families return to childcare providers. Some say it could also allow parents to work throughout the day.

Parents can’t stay home

Republicans worried this could discourage parents from caring for their own children.

“I understand that for some parents daycare may be a better solution,” said Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst). “But, if it’s not, maybe a better way to address some of this issue at least during the pandemic period is through a tax credit program or something along those lines.”

Beata Skorusa runs the Montessori Foundations of Chicago and disagreed with Mazzochi’s assessment. Skorusa explained her mother immigrated from Poland in the 1980s and made ends meet with a minimum wage job. But, she added that’s not the case anymore for families.

“Wages have not kept up with inflation. So, the parent no longer has the option to stay home, at least no the population that we are serving – the working poor. They just don’t have that option to stay home,” Skorusa stressed.

GOP members of the committee also wanted to make sure the state can guarantee payments to cover operational costs. The Pritzker administration provided $270 million in CARES Act funding to providers, but that funding source will expire soon. Lawmakers hope Congress can provide more funding through another stimulus package. Yet, those dollars aren’t guaranteed.

Ford’s proposal passed out of the Child Care Accessibility & Early Childhood Education Committee on a 9-2 vote. However, he promised to bring an amendment back to the committee highlighting a budgetary solution to pay the providers.

“I will continue to work with each of you, even before that amendment is drafted, for you to give me your ideas to make sure that when the amendment is prepared, it has your fingerprints on it as well to force your hand to vote for it,” Ford said.

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Mike Miletich

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