Start Early, formerly the Ounce of Prevention Fund, appreciates the steps taken by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and his administration over the past year to support early care and education programs during a global pandemic. We are, however, disappointed that the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget framework offered today proposes cuts in state funding to both the Early Intervention (EI) program and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). The administration did propose to maintain current funding levels for preschool and evidence-based home visiting programs, however, which is commendable given the significant financial pressures facing the state.
“We strongly support Governor Pritzker’s efforts to make Illinois the best state in the nation for families raising young children,” Ireta Gasner, Start Early vice president of Illinois policy, said. “But now is not the time to cut state funding of services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities, many of whom have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. We look forward to working with the administration and the Illinois General Assembly to direct additional state and federal resources (including federal child care funds), as they become available, to the state’s early care and education system.”
The public health crisis wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the needs of families, certainly among those already lacking equitable services and opportunities. It has also brought into sharp relief the essential nature of the work performed by early childhood professionals – workers whose efforts are central to the well-being of children, families and communities. Not only must we preserve the ability of state government to serve our communities left most under-resourced, we must do more to equitably invest in our young children and their families.
Despite these challenging times, the administration is laying the necessary groundwork to ensure the state can capitalize on future opportunities to strengthen our early childhood system. The Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding is poised to release its recommendations next month on how to fund and structure our state system to ensure all children, birth to age 5, have access to the highest quality care. In addition, Start Early is thrilled that state agency officials and stakeholders came together to create a comprehensive, multiyear plan to improve services and supports for expecting families, infants and toddlers. Together, we will improve the earliest days of a new baby’s life; we will make sure young children with disabilities and developmental delays receive the services and supports they need; and families facing greater challenges will thrive as their child’s first and most important teacher.
To that end, Start Early is eager to partner with the legislature and the administration to implement and retain policy improvements that positively impact young children. For instance, telehealth has been a lifeline for families in the EI program over the last year. Retaining telehealth as an allowable mode of service delivery, even once in-person services return, should be a top priority. In addition, Start Early will continue to partner with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to expand the state’s Medicaid program to include coverage for doula services and evidence-based home visiting. Parents deserve access to quality services that keep them and their children healthy, and these kinds of services are key to reducing racial disparities in maternal and child well-being.