Illinois will charge ‘essential’ workers $1 for child care during coronavirus emergency

Illinois will pick up all but $1 of the tab for health care workers, grocery clerks, and other “essential” workers who place their children in state-licensed child care centers or homes, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday.

The governor also said the state will boost reimbursements rates by 30% for the qualifying centers and homes that operate under emergency waivers during the coronavirus pandemic. To date, Illinois has granted about 550 child care centers the waivers, and another 1,500 home-based operators also qualify. 

All other child care centers are closed by emergency order, though the state was slower to close day cares than restaurants or K-12 schools. Schools are closed at least through April 30.

The state has said it will not cut off public funding for child care centers that have closed. But to encourage some centers to seek the emergency waiver, it is offering a one-time bonus that starts at $750 depending on the setting, in addition to the boost in reimbursement. 

Many child care centers operate on precarious margins, and their owners have warned that if state governments turn off the funding tap during the pandemic, they might not be able to reopen. Illinois, which spends about $1.5 billion on early childhood education, mostly uses those dollars to supplement the cost of care for low-income children.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise in Illinois, and health officials have said the state has yet to reach its peak in cases. In response, officials have issued a call for additional health care workers.

The state has a dedicated help line to connect first responders and emergency workers with child care. The number is 1-888-228-1146.