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Child-care providers hang on while awaiting Illinois funds

Zarahi Menendez owner KiddielEducational Center Excellence  is waiting be paid by state. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Zarahi Menendez, owner of Kiddieland Educational Center of Excellence, is waiting to be paid by the state. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:19AM

It hasn’t been an easy time to run a child-care business, with providers dealing with late payments from the state and continuing high unemployment.

“I still haven’t gotten paid,” said Zarahi Menendez, owner of Kiddieland Educational Center of Excellence in Chicago’s Old Irving Park neighborhood. She said the state owes her April and May payments for providing state subsidized child-care services to low-income families.

Menendez and other providers have been told they’ll receive payments this week, thanks to legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn this month providing more than $73 million to cover payments for April, May and June to some 40,000 child-care providers.

The state funding is welcome relief for many providers, according to Hedy Ratner, co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center, which will hold its 14th Annual Child Care Business Expo Saturday.

Still, for some providers the funding is coming too late.

Maria Lopez, director of the center’s child-care business program, said she’s aware of two providers that went out of business in the past year due to the state’s late payments.

“It has been a difficult, difficult time,” for providers, Ratner said. “It isn’t only the state funding, but also there are so many parents who are out of work and taking their kids out of child-care, so (providers) are no longer assured of the numbers that they normally have.”

As a result, child-care providers are “diversifying, their sources of kids and families,” Ratner noted. “It might be doing the second shift, third shift, not just the traditional shift. It’s looking at children with special needs. It’s also looking at providing after-school programs. So there are ways of diversifying to respond to the economic downturn that has adversely affected them.”

Those will be among the messages delivered at the expo, which this year has cut its prices in half and has scholarships available for providers in response to the challenges providers are facing.

The expo targets existing child-care enterprises and women looking to launch such home- or center-based child-care businesses, particularly businesses operating in low-income communities.

Menendez’s center, which will receive an award at the expo, is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. allowing her to provide services to parents who work later shifts. The center also offers after-school programs. Its clientele includes subsidized and non-subsidized children, and due to Menendez’s diversification strategy, the state’s late payments had less of an impact on her business, she said. Still, she would have been in the position of not being able to meet part of her payroll next month if the funding legislation wasn’t approved, she noted. And worries about getting paid prompted three of her staff to quit recently, she said. She concedes she’s concerned about potential state funding problems in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

“Children of low-income families have the right to high quality child-care and education, and without these funds, families can’t afford it,” she said.

At the expo, center providers will be encouraged to set aside emergency funds to position them to better deal with economic downturns and potential state budget issues, Lopez said.

The expo, which takes place from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road will feature one-on-one speed business coaching, a keynote breakfast presentation by family child-care expert Tom Copeland, and workshops on topics including how to raise income without raising rates and strategies for taking one’s business to the next level.

An exhibit hall will include more than 60 booths featuring educational products and services and representatives from child-care associations and state regulatory agencies.

The cost for the expo is $25 for the morning session, including attendance at the awards breakfast; $15 for the afternoon session, including a box lunch; or $40 for the full day, including meals.

For those who can’t afford the fee, scholarships are available by calling (312) 853-3477, ext. 290 by noon Friday. For more information, visit .

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