Starting this month, some very cruel budget cuts are making it much harder for poor, working parents in Kentucky to pay for childcare.
As if that weren’t enough, the state no longer has enough money to pay a modest, monthly stipend to relatives who take in children removed from parents because of neglect or abuse.
Because of repeated rounds of state budget cuts over the past five years, Kentucky can no longer afford to help parents who can least afford to help themselves get out of poverty and offer a better life to their kids. Ditto for low-income grandparents or other relatives struggling to provide a safe home for children who have suffered such extreme abuse or neglect that a judge has ordered the child removed from a home.
On July 1, the state began making deep cuts in such child care assistance meant to save about about $66 million for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Clearly, this will result in some shortterm savings for the cabinet, facing an $86 million hole in the budget of its department that oversees child and family services.
But the costs are incalculable for the thousands of Kentucky parents and children who will be affected. They will be far-reaching. And they will do nothing to reverse the child poverty rate in Kentucky, which has been steadily increasing to where now 27 percent of the state’s children live in impoverished households.
The cuts work this way:
• For child care assistance, families used to qualify if they earned 150 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Starting July 1, that changed to 100 percent of the poverty level, an amount so low few agencies use it to calculate benefits.
In real numbers, that means a family of three — say, a single parent and two kids— would have qualified at an annual income of about $29,300 a year. Now, after the cuts, such a family would have to earn about $19,500 or less to qualify.
And in real lives, it means about 8,700 Kentucky families will lose child care assistance each month, affecting about 14,300 children in need of care so parents can work.
Advocates, including Susan Vessels, director of the Louisville advocacy group Community Coordinated Child Care, say this will result in children placed in substandard care or in parents being forced to quit jobs and apply for welfare benefits.
“All of these folks are out there working every day, doing the very best they can do for their kids,” she told WFPL’s Joseph Lord. “They’re not on welfare. All they’re getting is this help with child care.”
• For relatives who take in children victimized by abuse or neglect, a monthly stipend of about $300 through a program called Kinship Care used to be available to help with basic costs such as food, school supplies, utility bills and clothes.
But to achieve more savings, the state has frozen that program and stopped taking new applicants.
That cut is expected to affect about 330 children each month.
In real life, it means judges desperately seeking someone to care for a child in an emergency may not find any relative able to afford the care. It means an aging grandmother living on Social Security simply can’t afford to take in one or more children.
In Kentucky, foster care costs — at a minimum — about $600 a month per child, twice the cost of the Kinship Care stipend.
There are no real savings here in child care assistance or Kinship Care. Only terrible costs enacted by Kentucky lawmakers who year after year have refused to face Kentucky’s desperate need for more revenue.
Instead they have forced cut after cut in spending as leaders brag about balanced budgets while drawing comfortable salaries and ultra-plush pensions.
Kentucky Youth Advocates has worked to alert the public to this largely unseen child care crisis and urges the public to contact Gov. Steve Beshear. That’s a start.
But the governor has been clear, in the face of legislative indifference, that he supports tax reform — proposed by commission after commission— as a way to improve the state’s revenue.
The public needs to make sure their elected representatives in Frankfort hear about this.
Until Kentucky and its lawmakers are willing to work on a vision for the future, the future will remain very bleak for its poorest families and children.
— The Courier-Journal Louisville