A is for Anxiety: Parents and Providers Worry about Daycare Subsidies

June 26, 2009

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Maribel Tiedje cares for children at her home daycare.

Illinois' new fiscal year begins in just four days. With a record deficit and no concrete budget, a number of state departments are bracing for deep cuts. That's left many people worried. Among them are those who've come to depend on state subsidies for child care. This report begins at a daycare home in suburban Franklin Park.

ambi: E for Eggs… P for Pineapple…

On a colorful rug, in a basement full of neatly displayed puzzles and books, a handful of kids sit in a circle playing picture bingo.

ambi: Bingo! Good job.

Maribel Tiedje started this daycare business 10 years ago. She and two assistants watch 14 kids every day—some have been here since they were babies.

TIEDJE: I like to be with kids. Other people might think that I'm nuts. But that's what I like, I really do.

Most of the families of these children get help from the state to pay for childcare.  The subsidy program is designed to help poor and working class families. But the Illinois Department of Human Services is budgeting for a gutted program that would help only the poorest of the poor. The department took a first step toward limiting the subsidies yesterday.

TIEDJE: It's gonna affect my business, it's gonna affect my staff, it's gonna affect the families especially.

Tiedje charges $175 a week per child. Parents who get a subsidy pay part of that fee—how mcuh they pay depends on their income. The state then sends Tiedje a check for the difference.

When Tiedje started her business, she didn't plan to take kids with subsidies. She didn't want to deal with the state's payment system.

TIEDJE: But when you see these families, you see the necessity. They are over-exhausted, to come and even read to these children. These children need to have a dependable, educational place to go.

That's been the state's thinking too—that the childcare subsidies keep kids in safe, regulated homes or daycare centers—and they keep parents working.

Nobody knows what lawmakers will do next week, but preparing for the worst has already shaken many parents.

Ana Torres leaves her two children with Tiedje while she goes to work as a secretary for a roofing company. A single parent, Torres has asked relatives to pray about the subsidies—and to be prepared to take her kids.

TORRES: But I also think about how it will affect my kids because they have a routine here. They come, they eat, they play, they go for a little class. Now it's gonna be completely different— it's gonna be one day maybe with my mom, one day maybe with my aunt.

Torres pays $100 a week for childcare. The state pitches in $250. Torres says if she had to pay the total herself—it wouldn't make sense for her to work.

TORRES: My whole check will be to pay the person who will take care of my kids.

It isn't a given that parents like Torres will be able to fall back on state preschool programs either. Preschool is facing its own possible cuts.

Kay Henderson directs early childhood programs at the Illinois State Board of Education.  She says that losing quality free preschool options will undermine how well kids do in school long-term.

HENDERSON: Because we will have thousands of children—three- and four-year-old children—who will be entering school without the benefit of any kind of preschool service.

Illinois has been considered a leader in preschool initiatives and help for families with children.

Advocates say that could be lost in one budget session. Lawmakers return to Springfield next week to try again at a state budget.

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