Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dear Governor Rauner

Dear Governor Rauner,

Since taking office in January 2015 you have faced many challenges. Governing a state as large and diverse as Illinois cannot be easy. You don't make decisions alone--that's not how government works--but you've tried to get things done. Though I don't consider myself a Republican, I appreciate you using your administrative gifts to help turn around Illinois.

I was born and raised in Michigan, but I've lived in Illinois for most of my married life. I've lived in the western suburbs of Chicago where I was an elementary teacher in Cicero. I've lived in central Illinois, within reach of the city while enjoying a slower and quieter pace. And I currently reside in rural southern Illinois with my husband and three daughters as we serve two United Methodist churches. There is much beauty here, but also struggle. My work in ministry has opened my eyes to how decisions made in Springfield affect real people.  

Fiscal responsibility is important, and let's face it, Illinois is in no position to waste precious money or time right now. I get that. But I'm concerned that the budget crisis, particularly cuts to higher education and social services , are beyond troubling--they're dangerous.

Take, for example, the school system in my small town of Neoga. Because of a property tax issue that occurred several years back, the school system was forced to refund money to Reliant Energy, being promised by the state that the district would be reimbursed. That money never came, and coupled with a decrease in state funding, the school system fell into dire financial straits. An attempt at a referendum failed last spring. The school board was forced to make dramatic cuts to remain open. The deepest of those cuts are devastating: no more elementary physical education teacher, no more art teacher, decreased bus service, and school dismissal at 2PM instead of 3PM.

The most serious of those cuts is the shortened school day. Most working families, which make up the majority of our town, cannot be home to welcome a child off the school bus at 2PM. This leads families to make tough decisions--who will care for my child when I'm not there? Can I leave my child home alone for a few hours until I get home from work? There are very few child care options in our town, an no latch-key program to speak of.

That's where church steps in, as it should. The church my husband and I serve partnered with another church in our town and began a low cost after school program to serve the needs of our community's families, and I'm happy to report that it's thriving. It's a large undertaking and requires enormous volunteer support. The children are fed, helped with homework, and given recreation time by church members who have been background checked. But not all families can afford it, and many parents work far later than the program is available. That means many children are still unattended at home, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, or worse.

That brings me to the decision made recently to freeze funding for the Child Care Assistance Program.This program benefits many families in our community, as they are working to find and hold low wage jobs while also struggling to find quality child care. Freezing this subsidy makes it difficult for families to place their children with safe caregivers. The consequence is that many hard-working families rely on neighbors, family, or friends to care for their children.

This week in Neoga, a one year-old child died in one of these unlicensed and unregulated child care situations. Two families are devastated, casualties in the war against "entitlements" that you and those in your party are so quick to cut. As Maria Whelan, director of Illinois Action for Children said in a recent Chicago Tribune article: "We have literally pulled the rug out from under these parents, who are doing exactly what we told them to do — go to work."

Governor Rauner, please reconsider your cuts to programs that help to raise up low-income working families. These cuts keep women out of the workforce and create dangerous conditions for children. Lives are being lost. Hope is wearing thin. Time is running out.

Christina Krost


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