Daycare operators like the Carol Robertson Center that run full-day programs by combining state funds for subsidized care with federal funds for Head Start are facing a new rule that is squeezing out many families.

Last October, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services mandated that new families applying for such blended programs must meet the income guidelines set for Head Start, which are even lower than the outdated guidelines set by the state for subsidized care.

For example, the income cutoff for a single mother who is working full time and has one child is $12,120 under Head Start rules but $19,626 under state rules. By having to use the federal rules, the Carol Robertson Center could not offer subsidized care even to a woman earning the minimum wage of $5.75 an hour.

And families would still be expected to kick in a co-payment for child care.

“If I were to come off the street today and apply for the full-day program my children are currently in, I would be ineligible,” explains Adela Reyes, a single mother of two. “My salary couldn’t be more than $15,260.”

Dan Lesser of the National Center on Poverty Law says the city has been skating on thin ice for a long time by using the higher state cutoff for kids also enrolled in Head Start. “Chicago didn’t have authority to use subsidized child care guidelines for Head Start programs,” he says.

Ruby Smith, director of child services for the Chicago Department of Human Services, estimates there are about 6,500 slots in blended Head Start/state-subsidized child care programs citywide.

Some child care centers are responding by sorting children into separate classrooms for Head Start and state-subsidized child care, Smith adds. The move allows families that are not eligible for Head Start to qualify for subsidized child care.

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