Blog | September 25, 2017

Illinois Business Executives: Child Care Essential to Workforce Quality

Restoration of 2015 eligibility cuts will help improve stability, productivity

Efforts at improving workforce development and stability notched significant progress through recent child care victories in Illinois, the product of two years of work by ReadyNation business leaders and their allies.

Two important moves by policymakers restored eligibility for child care assistance to its 2015 levels for tens of thousands of low-income, working families, by:

  • Raising the income-eligibility ceiling to 185 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), and
  • Restoring child care access for income-eligible families in which parents are involved in education and job-training activities to improve their lot in life.

These measures represented a top ReadyNation priority for bolstering Illinois’ child care assistance program, as conveyed in two years’ worth of newspaper op-eds, legislative testimony, and visits with policymakers.

“This program helps many low-income parents to find and maintain jobs, thereby also helping their employers to maintain a stable and productive workforce,” Chris Hembrough, President & CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, noted in testimony submitted to state appropriations hearings last spring. “Indeed, a national study showed the loss of child care options can cost American employers upward of $3 billion a year in lost productivity.”

Hembrough and other ReadyNation members have emphasized that high-quality child care represents a key component of the early education system that prepares kids for success in school, careers, and life. Without a half-day of affordable child care, many struggling, working parents cannot also access Illinois’ typically half-day preK program for their young children.

For many years, Illinois had set the upper end of income eligibility at 185 percent of FPL, or about $37,200 for a family of three in 2015 (for example, a single, working mom with two kids). Plus, child care help could be obtained by parents taking classes or job training if their households were income-eligible and not receiving federal Temporary Aid for Needy Families money.

There’s a ‘domino effect’ when working parents lose their child care help: Many must take time from work to seek other arrangements, and their employers incur extra expenses to fill in the blanks. The costs of workforce absenteeism quickly add-up, for everybody.

Keith Krutz, President of IMS Buhrke-Olson, Arlington Heights, IL

But in mid-2015, the Administration dropped the education-and-training provision altogether and rolled income eligibility back to a maximum of 50 percent FPL, or only $10,050 for that same family of three. Soon, as many as 50,000 kids lost child care access.

ReadyNation and partner organizations began a strong, public push to illustrate the dangers to Illinois’ families, businesses, and economy. Within months, they successfully convinced the Administration to temporarily move the eligibility limit to 162 percent of FPL, with a pledge to fully restore it over time. The Governor reflected his pledge in his budget proposal for FY18, and the final budget included a $77 million increase* for child care to accommodate the 185 percent restoration that – after further outreach from early childhood allies – he announced on Sept. 18.

The boost in child care funding also supports the restoration of education-and-training eligibility, which was enshrined in a law the Governor signed in mid-August. ReadyNation had helped to make that legislation a bipartisan priority; it ultimately cleared the Illinois House on a 65-44 vote and passed the Senate with unanimous approval.

Research that demonstrates the significance of child care to business success is increasingly drawing attention. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce underscores the ways that child care “supports parents: increasing completion of postsecondary education, raising labor force participation, increasing workforce productivity, and helping business attract and retain talent. And it ensures that children have the chance to develop well and begin kindergarten ready to thrive in school, work, and life.”

Illinois business leaders now join their ReadyNation counterparts across the country in urging U.S. Congress to strengthen federal support for child care – for example, improving Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit support for families trying to maintain care for their kids.

*In October 2017, the Administration reduced this to an increase of less than $18 million.

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