Government

Illinois day care subsidy changes hamstring domestic violence survivors, homeless mothers, advocates say

McHENRY – Sue Morrissey has a new reason to be worried about what will happen to the women in her shelter.

Because of stricter guidelines for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, fewer people qualify to receive subsidies. The effect, local domestic violence and homeless advocates say, is that the women they serve could have a harder time getting out of temporary shelter or away from abusive situations and on to independent living.

“These subsidies allow people to get out into the community,” said Morrissey, the vice president of program services for Home of the Sparrow. “If these supports aren’t there ... how this benefits anyone, we don’t get it.”

Under an emergency rule enacted by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration at the beginning of the state’s budget impasse, 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. As many as 90 percent of new applicants will be denied under the new guidelines, some advocacy groups estimate.

The rule as it currently stands is set to expire in late November. But Department of Human Services officials have submitted a proposal to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that would make the new provisions permanent, including enrollment restrictions that apply when the agency lacks the resources to serve all normally eligible applicants, said JCAR rules analyst Elaine Spencer.

The permanent rule would include a good cause exception for domestic violence survivors with supporting documentation, DHS spokeswoman Veronica Vera said.

The changes still concern Jane Zamudio, the associate director for Turning Point in Woodstock. She worries the stricter guidelines could result in women returning to a spouse abusing them.

Child care and financial stability are paramount to many women trying to leave an abusive relationship, she said, as they seek to escape domestic violence.

“Say she comes in and she needs to work so she can become independent and support her children, and finds she is ineligible for the subsidy,” Zamudio said. “She may even choose to return to her abuser because she can’t do it.”

The changes are projected to save the state $47 million annually on background checks and copays, and $5.3 million a month by freezing intakes.

Although the state is expected to save money, making the changes permanent could have drastic financial implications for local shelters and women in them, officials said.

At Home of the Sparrow, where about 30 percent of the clients do not have a domestic violence history, Morrissey said women are required to get a job within 10 weeks of coming into the shelter. While there, officials can provide them with assistance for day care, although the funds the organization has to support day care are disappearing quickly.

Home of the Sparrow paid out $1,800 in child care support for women who were in the shelter from January through June, Morrissey said. From July 1 – the day the changes went into place – through October, that amount jumped to $8,000.

Without affordable day care, mothers are faced with difficult choices, Morrissey said. They could choose to leave their children in an unsafe situation so they can work, or they could try to find subsidized housing, although there’s a backlog in McHenry County.

In the end, Morrissey contended, the best solution would be for the child care subsidy to be restored.

“The subsidy provides low-income families with a safe option for child care, and it allows the parents to work,” Morrissey said. “These are people who can get a job, get out there, pay their taxes and live their lives because they have child care.”

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