Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 2, 2013

Less money

State had little choice but to make difficult child care cuts

The Independent

ASHLAND — Some child advocates claim reductions in the number of low-income families who qualify for state assistance with child-care costs will force hundreds of working parents to quit their jobs because they can no longer afford to pay the cost of child care while they work.

That may happen, but our hope is that many of those Kentuckians losing chil-care assistance will find ways to reduce other expenses so they can continue to pay for child care while they work.

One  thing is certain: The Kentucky Department of Community Based Services had little choice but to make the cuts announced Wednesday. With cuts in both state and federal funding coming at a time when the department is experiencing larger caseloads, the agency was projecting a funding shortfall of $86.6 million.   The easiest way to make those kinds of funding cuts is to reduce the number of working Kentuckians eligible for state child-care assistance. That’s exactly what Kentucky is doing.

The state agency announced Wednesday it would immediately cease taking new applications for the program, and beginning in April, it will cease paying subsidies to families caring for abused or neglected children.

In July, the maximum amount of income a family of four can earn to qualify for state child-care assistance will drop from $33,075 a year to $22,050.

Audrey Tayse Haynes, who is secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says no one likes the changes. “This is really tough and these are not the kinds of decisions that we want to be making,” Haynes said. “Any reduction in services impacts a child’s life.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates Director Terry Brooks said the changes would have a negative impact.

“We also know that quality child care is not a luxury for working low-income families — rather, it is an essential tool to boost their children’s future outcomes in education and health. Now those — and other key supports — are diminished.”

Teresa James, commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services, agrees. “I am very concerned that we are going to be taking working parents and make them unable to work because they are not able to find child care,” she said.

The state estimates more than 10,000 children could be impacted by the changes.

Instead of quitting their jobs because of the cuts, our hope is most families losing state help for child care will find ways to cut other expenses so they can continue to provide their children with quality child care while they are working. For a family of four with a household income of only a little more the $22,000 a year, that will not be easy. Families earning more than $30,000 a year should be able to come up with a way to pay for child care while they work. It may cause a few hardships, but with both state and federal funding expected to be extremely tight in the coming years, families receiving assistance can expect to see a decline in  federal services.

Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, promised to look for a way to restore funding for the programs.

“It’s going to have a devastating effect on those folks that need that money to go back to work,” Lee said. “If they don’t have this money, they are not going to be able to find child care and will likely have to quit their jobs and stay home and take care of their kids, which means they will go back on welfare.”

While we are certain his intentions are good, we doubt Lee will be able to find the money to maintain funding at current levels. The money is just not there, and the state wisely has maintained child-care help for the working poor who most need it.

Many of us have been forced to make difficult spending choices in recent years. The smartest way to make spending cuts is by prioritizing what expenditures are most important. One would hope most families would put a high priority on assuring they have the child care to keep their jobs. After all, a good, dependable job is the best route out of poverty.