HAZARD – Administrators with child care agencies across Kentucky are bracing for a round of funding cuts that some say will ultimately cost the state more in the long run.
Officials with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced in January that child care assistance to low-income families would be reduced to help shore up an $86.6 million budget hole for the Department of Community Based Services. As a result, no new applicants for child care assistance will be accepted beginning in April, while in July the eligibility requirements for assistance will tighten.
For organizations like Community Ministries in Hazard and the children they serve, these cuts will likely have a very negative effect, said Executive Director Adrienne Bush.
“What this means for working families and student families,” Bush said, “is that their access to an educational facility for their young child, and even their school-aged child, is going to be cut off.”
Community Ministries operates both the New Beginnings daycare near the Hazard ARH and the Starland center on Memorial Drive. At New Beginnings, which offers early childhood education services, approximately 65 percent of the children receive child care assistance from the state. And without that assistance, Bush said, these children would likely not have an option to receive services at the center.
Cutting access to early childhood education services like those at New Beginnings will be detrimental not only to Kentucky’s schools in the long run, but also for the state’s general welfare, Bush said. According to studies like the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, children enrolled in a quality preschool program on average earn $2,000 more per month when they enter the workforce as adults, compared to students who did not have access to early education services.
“If people don’t have access to quality early childhood education, then yes, children are not going to be ready, which we will pay for later on within the school system,” Bush said. “And we’re going to be paying for it in other ways, through K-TAP (Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program) and food stamps. We’ll all pay for it and it will be more expensive.”
But it won’t be just the children facing an impact, Bush added, especially in Eastern Kentucky where rates of poverty are high. Beginning in July, families in Kentucky must be at 100 percent of the poverty level to be eligible for child care assistance. The current requirement allows eligibility for families at 150 percent, which the Cabinet for Health and Family Services currently defines as a family of four with an annual income of $33,525.
Bush said for many working families in Perry and surrounding counties, this changing threshold will make it much more difficult for them to obtain child care services. She noted one case locally in which children from a family of four attend New Beginnings. Both parents work, but also fall above the 100 percent requirement and below 150 percent. Once the state begins the re-certification process for families receiving assistance, this particular family will be facing tough decisions.
“As soon as they come up for re-certification they’re going to get cut off from assistance, and they’re not going to be able to afford the market rate,” Bush said.
Some also fear that the child care centers themselves could face questions of viability when these cuts take effect. Bush said she’s heard of some centers in the region where up to 90 percent of the children receive subsidies from the state. These cuts will affect the bottom line, which in turn will have effects on the broad range of families who rely on these centers.
“When I know that new children aren’t going to be accepted into this program, it affects our ability to provide services to people of all income levels, across the community,” Bush said.
Bush was one of several people who spoke before a Senate committee last month, urging lawmakers to reverse these cuts mandated at the Executive Branch. But at the same time, Kentucky’s budget has little wiggle room. State officials say they realize these cuts will have impacts, but less funds to pay for the increasing demand for these services is taking its toll.
“This is really tough and these are not the kinds of decisions that we want to be making,” Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Herald-Leader in Lexington. “Any reductions in services impacts a child’s life.”