McHENRY – The number of children enrolled at Kiddie Campus in McHenry has slumped close to the lowest it’s been in the day care center’s 50-year history, and owner Bonnie Bertagnoli said a change to the state’s subsidized day care program is to blame.
An emergency rule affecting the state’s Child Care Assistance Program has put a stop to new children enrolling in the program, drastically altered the criteria for children to qualify and increased the co-pay for students in the program.
“It’s been a miracle for me and other day care centers to get through this,” Bertagnoli said. “We’re doing everything we can to stay open.”
Under the emergency rule, a new applicant has to fit into one of four categories to be eligible: a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families recipient; a teen parent enrolled full-time in school or GED classes; from a family with a special needs child; or a working family with a monthly income up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
The former standards stipulated applicants would be eligible if they earned up to 185 percent of the poverty level. Some 90 percent of new applicants will be denied under the new guidelines, some advocacy groups estimate.
“It’s horrible,” Bertagnoli said. “[The parents] are crying, ‘What are we going to do? We can’t leave our kids at home alone.’ It’s sad, but obviously we cannot afford to take care of them and feed them. Otherwise, I would take them all.”
Children who previously qualified for the assistance program made up 98 percent of the students at Kiddie Campus, Bertagnoli said. She typically received $40,000 a month for 90 children. Without the opportunity to fill spots as students age out, last month, she got $23,000 and had about 50 children enrolled.
Kathy McCall relies on the state subsidy for her 3-year-old daughter, Irelyn, to attend day care at Kiddie Campus. A single mother of four, McCall earns $470 a week as a receptionist at a dental office. With a $1,000 rent payment, car insurance and food expenses monthly, she said it’s hard to imagine how she would cope if she had to front the entire cost of day care.
“I would probably have to move back to Chicago where my family could help with childcare,” McCall said. “It saves me. Without it, there’s no way.”
Even with the subsidy, McCall has to pay $267 a month for a copay. She received a notice saying in November that would jump to $330.
The state is projected to save $47 million in background checks and co-pays annually, as well as $5.3 million per month from freezing intakes on the Child Care Assistance under the changes, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Veronica Vera said.
In the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, more than 179,000 students received CCAP funding monthly, Vera said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration made changes to the CCAP on July 1, as the state entered a fiscal year without a budget. Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the money saved will free up resources to help the vulnerable and grow the economy.
“Now, the administration is taking steps to responsibly manage the state’s finances due to the $4 billion budget hole created by the legislature this year,” Kelly wrote in an email.
The emergency rule will be in place for 150 days, or until Nov. 27. Members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules could have suspended the emergency rule during their Aug. 11 meeting, but instead chose to criticize the change while allowing it to remain in effect, Rules Analyst Elaine Spencer wrote in an email.
DHS officials have a proposed rule pending that would make permanent the emergency rule, including the new enrollment restrictions that apply when DHS lacks sufficient funds to serve all normally eligible applicants.
Public hearings on the proposed rule will take place Oct. 6 and 7 before DHS submits the rule to JCAR for consideration it its November meeting, Spencer said.
“At that point, the emergency rule will be about two weeks from expiration,” Spencer wrote.
For Sunshine Early Learning Center in Lake in the Hills, the emergency rule change has meant Director Jackie Otto has had to turn some potential students away.
The center typically enrolls about 30 children its preschool and day care program, with 10 of those spots filled by children who qualify for CCAP. This year, though, the school is down to five CCAP students because Otto can’t fill spots as children leave.
“If they could qualify, I believe all five spots would be filled,” Otto said. “Until the state can change something, there’s not a whole bunch we can do.”