By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
For lack of $66 million to help with child care costs for the working poor, the state may witness the loss of thousands of jobs and incur even greater costs down the road.
That was the message from child care workers and advocates before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday. Sitting behind those who were testifying, other child care workers nodded with each dire warning and applauded when speakers concluded their comments.
The state has announced it will cease child-care subsidies for the working poor and those seeking to better their education as of April 1 in response to a budget shortfall. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which provides $66 million in child care subsidies, faces an $86 million shortfall.
But it’s a short-sighted, penny-wise and pound foolish idea, according to those who addressed the legislative committee Wednesday.
“If you don’t invest in the playpen, you’re going to invest in the state pen later on,” said Kristen Tipton of Southside Church Charities Child Care of Louisville.
Failing to provide those child care subsidies will have a much greater impact than just on the affected families, according to Gerry Roll, Executive Director of Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky based in Hazard.
Many of the parents who depend on New Beginnings, a day care in Hazard, make as little as $7 or $8 an hour, and losing their subsidized child care will probably mean they can’t work, Roll told lawmakers.
Roll said many child-care centers have a majority of clients who receive the subsidies and if they are cut off, those child care centers will not be able to continue operating.
That could put another 12,500 child-care workers out of work, Roll said, most of whom make between $15,000 and $20,000 a year. She said 78 percent of the clients at New Beginnings in Hazard receive the child-care subsidy — and if the center loses that income, it won’t be able to stay open even to serve the full-pay clients.
“It ALL goes away come April 1.” Roll said. “These are working parents we are about to squash.”
That will affect local economies as well, she said.
Jeff Burch, executive director of the Lexington Community Action Council, reminded lawmakers that the whole idea of child-care subsidies was part of the 1996 Welfare Reform, a promise to mothers with children that if they sought work or went back to school, they would receive help with their child-care costs.
Adrienne Bush who operates New Beginnings tried to put that into perspective for the lawmakers.
She has a kindergarten-age child whose mother enrolled him in the center when he was a toddler so she could go back to school.
“She is now a registered nurse, and she now pays the market rate for child care,” Bush said. “She pays more taxes now than I do.”
The parents of another child each have jobs but don’t earn enough to pay for child care without the subsidy, Bush said. But if they lose that assistance, Bush said, one of the parents will almost certainly have to quit a job.
Lawmakers were sympathetic, but except for the Committee Chair, Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, they didn’t offer much hope during a non-budget session of the General Assembly.
Denton said somehow, someway the administration and lawmakers had to come up with some funding for the program by April 1.
But Teresa James, Commissioner for Family Based Services for the cabinet, said there isn’t available money left which can be diverted to the child-care subsidies.
James said her department cannot move money that is tied to federal programs because that would cost the state even more in federal funding.
“All the funds we have left are attached to federal programs, and if we took money from those, then we’d lose those federal funds,” James said.
But rather than dispute the testimony of child-care advocates before the legislative committee, James said she agrees with them.
“There was nothing said (Wednesday) that I don’t agree with,” James said. She said without the child-care subsidies, she expects to see increases in the number of children placed into potentially harmful or neglectful environments and an increase in demand for income assistance for those who have to quit work to care for their children.
“This was the most difficult decision of my professional career,” James said. “But within the department, there simply is not funding latitude.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.