The Eligibility Cliff

Got a call today from a mother whose 1st grader attended one of our pre-schools.

She really wants her daughter to attend our after-school program at her old pre-school site. But she makes $120 too much per month to qualify for the program (per State of Illinois and federal rules).

She has been unsuccessful at finding workable alternatives, she can afford from her modest paycheck (under $30,000 per year). She called the Executive Director’s office out of sheer frustration after two years of struggling to find an alternative.

This is all because she fell off the “eligibility cliff”. There is a moment that families crosses an invisible income line and suddenly become ineligible.. there is no phase out. It is one of the worst perverse incentives, I’ve ever seen. “You earn too much”.

Kudos to our staff who help families navigate this complicated web of funding and eligibility rules, but the whole system is built without a foundation.

There are ways to make it more rational, but it is going to take much more leadership from organizations like Chicago Commons if it is ever going to happen.