Friday, May 18, 2012

Quinn signs off on money for child-care providers

By Ashley Griffin

Child-care providers throughout Illinois can count on state funding through the end of the current fiscal year, but cuts are still on the horizon for next year.

On Friday, the Senate approved and Gov. Pat Quinn signed a supplemental appropriations bill that contains $73.6 million to pay providers and $151 million to pay down overdue Medicaid bills. Senate Bill 2450 passed with 46 “yes” votes and zero “no” votes. The bill would use unspent Fiscal Year 2012 funds to pay Medicaid bills, then direct the federal match that comes with Medicaid spending toward paying child-care providers for looking after low-income children. The House approved the proposal earlier this week.

The governor’s office had notified child-care providers that payments would be delayed until July. The move to delay the payments could affect up to 40,000 child-care providers and 85,000 low-income families. According to Kelly Kraft, a spokesperson for Quinn, the shortfall in child-care money was caused because an increased number of Illinoisans’ needed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is paid out of the same fund. “We are encouraged legislators understand that just because reductions in the budget are made it does not mean the need goes away. This fiscal year we experienced a dramatic increase in demand for TANF... cases. TANF, along with child care are funded through the same line, and federal law mandates the state pay TANF first. Due to that unexpected increase in TANF, the state developed a $73.6 million shortage in funding available for child care. We have worked diligently with lawmakers over the last several months to make certain they were aware of the impending shortfall and the need to address it. This legislation restores that funding and ensures that the tens of thousands of Illinois residents who benefit from child care are not forced to choose between going to work and caring for their children,” Kraft said in a written statement.

Although funding will be restored for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2012, under Quinn’s FY '13 proposed budget, the program would see an $85 million reduction.

“We applaud lawmakers for sparing child-care providers and the parents who rely on these vital programs from a potentially crippling three-month delay in payments this year,” Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana said in a prepared statement. The union represents a number of child-care providers. “We must fully fund the child-care system in Illinois and keep working families on the job and in school where they can contribute to our economic growth.”

The proposal to fund the program through the end of the fiscal year was supported by the vast majority of lawmakers, but Republicans took the opportunity to criticize the way the state budget is crafted. “We need to do this -- we all know we need to do this -- but i'ts kind of interesting again for some of us who have been here awhile that when we really, really, really need to, we can always find a place to move money around,” said Sen. Carole Pankau, a Republican from Itasca. “But maybe it's time that we spent some extra time taking that fine-tooth comb to the budget as we go forward.”

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