A Crisis Not in Theory: Bruce Rauner's Back-Door Destruction of the Illinois Child Care Program

Maybe you've heard about what's happening in Illinois, but chances are you haven't. If the local headlines are to be believed, the shutdown threatened by our new Gov. Bruce Rauner is a theoretical crisis, far off in the future.

In fact, Rauner's refusal to sit down with legislators of both parties to produce a budget has already created devastating pain for working families, with effects that are sure to ripple outward, damage our economy and threaten the stability of the Illinois working class.

Our union has been on the front line of this fight for the future of Illinois, representing more than 90,000 workers who, each and every day care for more than 100,000 children in the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP); serve more than 50,000 seniors in the state's Community Care Program (CCP); care for more than 30,000 people with disabilities in the state's In-Home Services Program; and more than 10,000 residents in nursing homes and tens of thousands in our state's vital Safety Net hospitals.

That amounts to more than 200,000 consumers who are being held hostage by Rauner's proposed cuts to these vital programs, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of parents, family members and spouses who are placed in a bind when these programs are threatened.

But it's been more than threats or hypothetical harm for many families who already are struggling to stay out of poverty. That's because on July 1, Gov. Rauner's administration totally halted new admissions into the state's highly successful Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) - this means that an average of 5,000 families per month are now being denied childcare assistance, with preliminary reports suggesting the dropoff amount is likely higher, with many parents not even bothering to apply anymore.

The result is a permanent diminishment of the program, which has enjoyed broad and bipartisan support, without so much as a budget or any real public debate. This is a deliberate attack on the program through attrition, a way to remove a tool that helps working parents without any fingerprints.

And for what? Don't let Rauner tell you this has anything to do with the budget because it does not. He repeated this myth at another press conference recently. The fact is that Rauner's demands are firmly rooted in a desire to end labor peace in Illinois and attack collective bargaining, making outrageous contract demands on top of his dangerous proposed cuts.

This deliberate attempt to destroy a successful program like CCAP without debate or public knowledge is a terrible way to govern. It's even worse for the security and welfare of tens of thousands of children and the economic security of tens of thousands of Illinois' working families.

Childcare workers have a tradition where they ask others, especially legislators, to Walk-A-Day in their shoes. That's their way of demonstrating that the hard work they do requires a high degree of love and compassion to those who receive their services.

Childcare providers develop a bond with the children they care for and their families. They become like family themselves. The pain that parents and their children feel from these cuts is felt by parents even as I write this, and it's a shame.

I challenge Gov. Rauner to walk a day in the shoes of those parents or the childcare providers they count on. I would like him to see the immense value of the services they provide and what it means for them to be left twisting in the wind.

Gov. Rauner's wealth seems to have blinded him to the pain of others to the point that he is willing to let them suffer so he can advance a set of "reform" goals that are untethered from the immediate needs of our most vulnerable populations.

He has put Illinois on a dangerous path. I hope he has the wisdom to turn around before greater damage is done.

Keith Kelleher is president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, representing more than 90,000 homecare, childcare, nursing home and hospital workers across Illinois.