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Local News

Child care providers plead with lawmakers for budget shortfall solution (with video)

Cicily Gant, owner of Shelby Scholars with locations in Joliet and Robbins, on Wednesday at a childcare funding forum hosted by Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet.
Cicily Gant, owner of Shelby Scholars with locations in Joliet and Robbins, on Wednesday at a childcare funding forum hosted by Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet.

JOLIET — Grace's Place daycare owner Margaret Keough won't make payroll March 1 unless state lawmakers quickly address a $300 million budget shortfall for a widely used state-subsidized day care program.

Her 30 employees would be out of a job, and Keough said she would be forced to close her three day care centers — located in Naperville, Plainfield and Plano, leaving the nearly 130 children enrolled without services.

Keough was among a dozen or so child care center owners and providers who on Wednesday attended a child care funding forum hosted by Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet. Other area lawmakers also attended.

“I actually give $194,000 just in payroll taxes a year to the economy,” Keough said. “We're just a small business. Imagine the economy if (everyone in this room) goes under.”

The budget shortage is a result of the state spending plan approved in May. The Illinois Department of Human Services announced last month it won't be able to fully fund the Child Care Assistance Program, known as CCAP, through June.

Child care providers are dealing with late state payments — a catastrophic domino effect that could leave parents and day care center employees jobless, said Cicily Gant, owner of Shelby Scholars, with locations in Joliet and Robbins.

“Whatever hat you may wear, whether it be the child care provider, the employee or the parent, we're being forced to make drastic decisions in an untimely manner,” Gant said. “This is gravely affecting parents who are at a crossroads, being forced to take their child out of child care because they can't afford it, which in turn leads to unemployment."

Katie Moore, owner of Kiddie Academy in Bolingbrook, said Wednesday her center would, at best, last a couple of months and then be forced to shut its doors. About 65 percent of her clients rely on CCAP funding.

"It's very real to them. It's very real to me as a business owner that we could go out of business," Moore said.

Moore broke into tears at one point, explaining to lawmakers what could happen if they don't solve the funding crisis soon.

Kathy Fudge-White, director of early childhood services at Catholic Charities, said she's received an influx of calls from concerned parents.

"They've been told by their provider that they no longer can provide care for them if the situation is not resolved and they're trying to get to come to Head Start. Unfortunately, we cannot service all of them. We have a waiting list," Fudge-White said.

Lawmakers attending included Manley, Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, and Rep. Emily McAsey, D-Lockport.

Several said they waited for answers from party caucus leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner, who are in the midst of negotiations related to the budget crisis.

Options to fix the funding issue include granting Rauner wider authority to reallocate money from other budget areas or shifting $300 million to the program from surplus funds within the state budget. An agreed-upon solution has yet to emerge.

The funding crisis is rooted in the spending plan approved last May by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and then-Gov. Pat Quinn. Many criticized the budget for not having enough money to make it through the entire year because it relied on the extension of the temporary state income tax hike, which expired Jan. 1.

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