By Chris Kaergard

Peoria Journal Star

PEORIA — Easy access to affordable child care is crucial for women working to get ahead, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said Tuesday during a tour of Myah’s II Learning Center during which she played with infants, read to pre-kindergarten kids and dispensed plenty of hugs.

The East Moline Democrat continued a multi-day tour of the district focusing on issues of importance to women — topics she said included equal pay legislation, funding for early childhood education, improved access to education for women and more options for affordable child care.

After a tour of the center and before reading stories to a classroom of 5-year-olds, Bustos emphasized that many of the topics share links, and that addressing them can help the economy overall.

“We know that for every dollar invested in (Pell grants for higher education), there’s a better-than-$1 returned. We know that for programs like Head Start (for early childhood learning), for every $1 invested there’s a $7 return,” she said.

Access to education for people who want to get ahead — particularly women in single-parent households — is crucial, the second-term lawmaker said, noting that being able to have affordable, easy-to-access child care is a portion of the answer.

On that score, Bustos supports legislation that would increase how much families can put into pre-tax flexible spending accounts to pay for child care, rising from $5,000 to $7,500 annually. That amount would be tied to inflation for future years.

Lynne Costic, who operates the center, told Bustos that one of the takeaways she wanted the congresswoman to convey to state leaders is the need for legislators to understand “the need for more funding for these types of programs.”

A separate child care facility run by Costic at the CityLink bus terminal Downtown had to receive a boost from the transit agency earlier this year because of state funding concerns. The Greater Peoria Mass Transit District was prepared to hold off on collecting several months worth of rent on the location until state cash-flow issues could be dealt with.

Such worries shouldn’t have to fall on agencies and businesses performing such critical work, Bustos said.

“I think what the state of Illinois can do and what the federal government can do is offer a little more certainty,” she said. “...When we’ve got dysfunctional government, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or if it’s in Springfield, it hurts families.”