By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office on Monday announced the Republican chief executive would loosen eligibility standards for the state’s child care assistance program that his administration had tightened in July.
The administration this summer used its rulemaking powers to toughen eligibility standards for the program, changing the maximum-income standards from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent, or from about $2,450 for a two-person family to about $665 per month.
That brought heavy criticism from child care advocates and from legislative Democrats, who are in the midst of pushing legislation to rollback the governor’s change and limit the executive branch’s rulemaking authority.
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover on Monday morning released a statement saying the administration would file an amended rule that would set the eligibility threshold at 162 percent of the poverty level.
“Other eligibility and restrictions will also be lifted pending further review and legislative consultation,” Trover said. “Additionally, the governor’s office will establish a bipartisan, bicameral task force aimed at ensuring the long-term stability of the program.”
The governor’s office credited the change in position to serious, good-faith and bipartisan discussions.
“This bipartisan agreement will allow us to avoid the unintended consequences and costs that Senate Bill 570 would have brought,” Trover wrote. “By working together, we will be able to bring financial stability to an important program valued by members of both parties.”
That doesn’t mean the bill to put a stop to the governor’s changes is dead.
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, the House sponsor of the bill, in her own statement said she intends to call the bill for a vote Tuesday.
“My primary focus and concern is that of children, families and childcare centers that need access to this vital work program now,” Gordon-Booth wrote. “We must pass Senate Bill 570 to statutorily make certain that our children are never put in this kind of limbo ever again.”
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, said if the legislation does return to the Senate, she’d hold it, but not indefinitely.
“If Senate Bill 570 comes back to the Senate for a vote, I have agreed to hold it only as long as the temporary rule is actually passed in the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules on Nov. 17, giving thousands of providers and kids immediate relief,” Hutchinson said.
“It’s past time for us to work together in every way we can every time we can. Our children deserve nothing less,” the senator said.
A week ago, Rauner’s team was pushing hard against the bill, saying “it permanently cements the eligibility level for the CCAP, regardless of appropriations or funds available.”
The compromise stance would apparently put the eligibility nearly to where it had been — 185 percent of the federal poverty level — yet leave the governor’s office some flexibility in the future.
The governor’s top staff put the cost of the assistance program as mandated in Senate Bill 570 at $220 million for the remainder of fiscal year 2016 and as much as $800 million annually.
Proponents of the bill, however, questioned the accuracy of the administration’s numbers and said not funding the program would ultimately cost the state far more.