SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed two pieces of legislation that will help Illinois soldiers and their families maintain health coverage and childcare assistance when they are deployed to fight in the War on Terror.
“When our soldiers leave to fight for freedom, they should not be saddled with extra worries about things like not being able to afford childcare while they are gone, or losing health coverage because they had to leave college,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We want to make it as easy as possible for our soldiers to leave with peace of mind that their families’ needs will be met.”
Senate Bill 328, sponsored by State Senator Arthur Wilhelmi (D-Joliet) and State Representative Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley), establishes the Helping Heroes Child Care Program to provide vouchers to Illinois families who have one or more parents deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Under the bill, the Child Care for Deployed Military Personnel fund will be created in the State Treasury to receive federal funding to pay for the program.
“Current programs weren’t designed to handle the problems created when citizen soldiers are on active duty for extended periods of time,” said Sen. Wilhelmi. “Many of our National Guardsmen and Reservists are leaving better paying civilian jobs to go to Iraq or Afghanistan and this often places a financial squeeze on spouses and children at home.”
“In many cases, the family breadwinner leaves a good paying civilian job to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. This is the least we can do to help with the substantial cost of child care for our brave military men and women,” Rep. Pritchard added.
The legislation, which unanimously passed both chambers and goes into effect immediately, will have no fiscal impact on the state because the program will rely on federal funding. The Illinois Department of Human Services will determine income eligibility.
HB 116 ensures that when children of state workers are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will not lose health insurance benefits. The measure, sponsored by State Representative Rich Brauer (R-Petersburg) and State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield), allows young people age 23-25 who are dependents of state employees and full-time students to continue to be covered under a state insurance plan if they are required to leave school to serve in the military.
“We know that this has been a problem in the past but now we can assure those concerned parents that their children will definitely have insurance coverage while they’re serving their country and when they return home without any lapse,” Rep. Brauer said.
Under current law, when a dependent reaches a certain age and/or no longer attends college on a full-time basis, their health care coverage is terminated under their parents’ state health plan. The new law will make sure that there is no lapse in medical coverage while he or she is deployed. To date, more than 80 people have been affected by the old law. The new law is retroactive to January 1, 2002 and effective immediately.
"Illinois' men and women--who have put their educational futures on hold to protect American interests abroad--should not be confronted with the additional stress of returning home to find that their health insurance privileges have become obsolete," said Sen. Bomke. "Representative Brauer and I feel that it is important for all people to have access to quality health care, and our military personnel are no exception."