Keith Kelleher Op-Ed: Don’t hand out credit to Rauner, Dunkin on child care deal

We are pleased to post the following op-ed from Keith Kelleher, President of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which was published in the Springfield Journal Register on November 17th, 2015.


In the days following the critical vote on Senate Bill 570, the reported comments and an op-ed by Rep. Ken Dunkin appearing on this page leave me shaking my head. In announcing his reversal to the extreme child care and home health care cuts he’d ordered in July, Gov. Bruce Rauner sought to cloak himself in a robe of compromise — offering credit to Mr. Dunkin for brokering a deal he said proved he was willing to reach across the aisle. It was fine political theater, but bears little resemblance to reality.

To be clear, after months of public pressure and bipartisan outcry from every corner of Illinois, Gov. Rauner made a calculated decision — a mere 24 hours before votes were to be cast that would have overturned his extreme cuts to child care and home health care — to cut his political losses and reverse course.

Rauner’s extreme cuts to the highly-successful Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) kicked 70,000 kids off the program in just 90 days, caused the closure of hundreds of child care businesses, and permanently damaged child care infrastructure in this state. And similar home health care changes ordered by Rauner would have denied care to 34,000 poor seniors and people with disabilities.

As the union representing the 52,000 state workers who provide these services, SEIU Healthcare Illinois worked hard for the passage of Senate Bill 570 and House Bill 2482 — to provide binding, verifiable certainty that eligibility requirements would be rolled back to pre-July 1st levels — in statute, not merely on a handshake.

After more than four months of needless suffering and devastating impacts to families all across Illinois, we felt strongly these bills were necessary. Why? Because the powers granted by the General Assembly for executive flexibility on rulemaking had never before been used to completely eviscerate an entire program — until Bruce Rauner decided to use them to destroy CCAP.

The pending bills that ultimately caused Rauner to fold included adjustments to that executive authority that would’ve ensured that this governor, or any future governor of either party, could never again inflict the type of damage caused by Rauner’s overreach.

Make no mistake, this week’s action by Rauner was a giant step in the right direction. But it was an action taken under duress, after a self-manufactured crisis that should have never happened in the first place.

The Rauner-Dunkin account of this long-overdue policy reversal simply doesn’t match with reality. It was only when forced with the threat of Republican defections — a huge potential embarrassment — that Rauner decided to cut his losses. To hear Rauner and Dunkin tell it, the compassion and determined work of two noble public officials — themselves — had brought us to this moment.

But the decision to spare hundreds of thousands of Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens was not a victory for Mr. Dunkin — who had pledged unequivocally to vote “Yes” on SB 570. Nor was it a victory for Mr. Rauner — who has yet to justify or even acknowledge the needless suffering caused by his nakedly political attacks.

The real victory this week was for the people of Illinois, whose voices were finally heeded in this nightmare period of self-inflicted budget impasse. They’d witnessed enough gamesmanship, as our most vulnerable were used as pawns in a larger political game that had nothing to do with the budget.

This week showed the world that when we unite for what’s right, and when the public at large learns of needless suffering caused in pursuit of an extreme political agenda, that even the most seemingly immovable obstacles can be overcome.

— Keith Kelleher is president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

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