Caroline Fargas still has enough money to pay the mortgage on her family’s home. She still has insurance to cover an emergency doctor’s visit, and if baby Abigale runs short on diapers, she still has spare cash to pick some up. But one expense Fargas can’t afford is child care for her daughter.
Caroline Fargas feels fortunate to have a new job after being downsized out of her former real estate position in Belvidere.
She still has enough money to pay the mortgage on her family’s home. She still has insurance to cover an emergency doctor’s visit, and if baby Abigale runs short on diapers, she still has spare cash to pick some up.
But one expense Fargas can’t afford is child care for her daughter.
“There’s definitely a pinch in my pocketbook,” said Fargas, 36, whose 2-year-old still has nearly two years before she starts preschool. Until Fargas lost her job in late October, the single mother of one had the money to pay for an at-home nanny between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily, even if Fargas was working from home.
But with a clerical office salary bringing in about half the money she was earning at her old job, Fargas isn’t sure she’ll even have the financial wherewithal to pay for a day-care service.
“I’ve talked to a couple providers; we’re trying to figure out if we can get some help,” she said.
Fargas is among hundreds of parents who may be forced to lean on state aid for child care while parents work odd shifts to make ends meet. For providers, that means they will be counting on the state to reimburse them in a timely manner so bills can be paid. But the state has a giant backlog of unpaid bills, and many child-care providers are anxiously awaiting state reimbursement checks, unsure when or if they’ll come.
“Usually after we submit for payment, we usually get something back within two to four weeks,” said Danielle Ritter, executive director of Trinity Day Care in Rockford.
Toni Brown, director at Stepping Stones Child’s Center in Roscoe, says the state owes her about $9,000 in voucher reimbursements.
“It’s not a giant number, but there are not a lot of frills in the child-care business,” Brown said. “We need every penny to pay our bills.”
Brown says her backlog dates to October.
Although vendors such as Brown do qualify for some state aid, Illinois covers only a portion of the cost to care for a subsidized child. With the number of parents qualifying for the program on the rise, day-care providers’ dependence on timely reimbursements is greater than ever.
“We have subsidized families, and with the economy the way it is, the number has doubled in the last four or five months,” Brown said. “About 12 percent were subsidized, now we’re up to about 20 percent.”
State Comptroller Dan Hynes’ office acknowledges that bill payments were delayed in November, but only for four days. The delay should not have resulted in reimbursements being put on hold for weeks at a time, said spokeswoman Carol Knowles.
“There was a disruption in the flow of payments for day-care facilities for four business days and that was due to a lack of revenue in November,” Knowles said. “This interruption of payments to day cares was an extraordinary interruption because of a single circumstance. They’re on a regular cycle of payments.”
The Illinois Department of Human Services, the state agency charged with running Illinois’ subsidized child-care program, says its part of the job is being executed on time.
“There are currently no major delays for DHS-funded child-care providers,” said spokesman Tom Green.
Any outstanding checks have been mailed within the last week and should be received within days, Green said.
The state’s backlog of bills is increasing from $4 billion to $5 billion because of continued revenue shortfalls at the state level, according to Hynes. However, the comptroller’s office insists that child-care payments should never fall behind schedule because the service is a crucial part of parents’ daily regimen.
“It’s a subsidy for low-income individuals who couldn’t continue working if they didn’t have assistance with day-care costs,” Knowles said. “In order to stay in business, they need the regular payments.”
Kartikay Mehrotra can be reached at (815) 987-1371 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.