Thursday, July 23, 2015

Illinois State Budget Impasse is Hurting Families

by Christy Serrano, Education Program Officer

The Governor and Illinois General Assembly have a deadline set by the state constitution to pass a budget by the end of the legislative session in May of each year. To date, they have not passed a budget. As the Illinois state budget impasse drags into the summer, families have already started experiencing major hardships due to new program restrictions and unresolved government contracts that have compromised essential child and family supports in health and human services. More specifically, families who rely on the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and the Early Intervention (EI) program to support their children’s educational development and family well-being have already been denied services due to new eligibility rules designed to cut services or are just not receiving services because the absence of a state budget has forced programs to shut down.

One of the biggest changes to CCAP is that the state is now restricting eligibility for new families to four priority populations - families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), children with special needs, families earning below 50% of the federal poverty level, or teen parents. Illinois Action for Children estimates that only about 10% of the current CCAP families fall within one of the priority populations. This means we expect that approximately 90% of new CCAP applicants – who otherwise meet the state’s income threshold and work requirements – will be denied child care services. They also estimate that approximately 2,000 new families have already been denied since July 1, 2015. Since early childhood programs rely on blended funding models in order to offer high-quality care and education, the families who have been denied also may not be able to access early learning opportunities through Preschool for All and Head Start.

Families seeking EI services are having an increasingly hard time accessing Child Family Connections (CFC) Offices in their area, the entry point for receiving any EI services. CFCs manage and coordinate all aspects of the EI program for families and children from birth to age three. According to the Children’s Medical Legal Partnership, three Child and Family Connections Offices closed on July 1, 2015, and they are expecting that more CFCs will have to close their doors due to a non-existent budget and lack of funding. Moreover, individual providers such as speech, developmental, occupational, and physical therapists, are not being fully paid for the EI services they should be providing to families and very young children at-risk for long term developmental delays. A recent court ruling forces the state to reimburse providers for EI evaluation services through Medicaid starting on July 1, 2015. However, the ruling only applies to providers in Cook County and CFCs across the state are still at risk for closures since most of their costs are not reimbursed by Medicaid. 

What you can do?
I am deeply concerned about the short and long-term effects of a budget that restricts access to critical human services including, but not limited to, EI, health and mental health, housing supports, child welfare, mentoring, CCAP and other workforce supports. Call on Governor Rauner, Speaker Madigan and members of the Illinois General Assembly to advance a Fiscal Year 2016 budget that provides adequate funding for early childhood programs like EI and CCAP so that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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