Motorists who travel Dixie Highway near 175th Street might have noticed big banners on the exterior of Stepping Stones Child Care at 17560 Dixie Highway in Homewood.
The words “Save the Child Care Assistance Program” are surrounded by small handprints in many colors.
Owners, staff and parents are worried. The state’s monetary support for the program has run dry.
Parents depend on CCAP to help them pay for day care services they couldn’t otherwise afford, and the day care provider depends on income from the program to maintain staffing levels, according to Stepping Stones owner Mary Jung.
She said about half the 72 children who attend the day care center receive assistance from the program, and if payments from the state stop, those families would be without the day care service they depend on, and she might be forced to lay off staff.
“This affects so many families,” she said.
One of which is her staff, several of whom have been with Stepping Stones for many years.
“It’s a family here,” said Director Julie Sampognaro.
For example, Klara Lundstedt, an assistant teacher, has been on staff for 20 years, since the founding of the organization.
“I’ve been here since I was 19,” she said. “It’s so sad this is happening.”
So the staff, with help from the children, are urging area residents to contact their representatives and Gov. Bruce Rauner to urge a fast solution to the problem.
Sampognaro said it’s not clear whether the January payment will come, and if not, she said it could be July before more state money becomes available.
The Illinois Department of Human Services posted an update on its website Feb. 6 that notes there is still some federal funding that will be distributed for January and February, but it is not enough to meet the state’s obligations.
According to Illinois Action for Children, a non-profit organization that advocates for children and families, “the state needs $300 million to keep the program running through June 30.”
Rauner has been quoted as saying, “We’re going to fix the mess,” and he is working with the state legislature to see if there is a way to reallocate funds to keep the program going.
Staff at Stepping Stones in Homewood are still plenty nervous. Teacher Andrea Grossi said there have been times of uncertainty over state funding in the past, but “this is the worst. This is serious.”
Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]