Ky. Voices: Cutting child-care subsidies traps Kentucky in cycle of neglect, poverty

February 26, 2013 

Timothy F. Guthrie is treasurer and board member of The Nest-Center for Women Children and Families, Inc. in Lexington.

The proposed cuts in services to families and children in Kentucky might help reduce the state's budget woes but they do so at a tremendous cost to our local communities.

Across the commonwealth, local governments are facing their own budget catastrophes and have few resources to offset these cuts. Nonprofit agencies, such as The Nest, have seen increased demand for services and survive on bare-bone budgets and their staff's commitment to the populations they serve.

How can a legislature expect to solve our state's problems by cutting funds to its most vulnerable citizens: its children?

If Kentucky's future is dependent upon a responsible and educated work force, we are destined for long-term failure if we continue down the path being proposed.

If our goal is to sustain an underclass of minimum-wage workers subsidized by government services for their entire lives, we are on the correct path.

Failure to support our children now increases the chance they will graduate to juvenile failure and finally to a lifetime of adult crime, addiction and domestic violence. As these failures fill beds in our jails and prisons, the high price of incarceration will further drain local resources.

Incidences of social neglect start with our children and end with our senior citizens. Both lack advocacy necessary to move legislative leaders into action and the financial clout necessary to influence legislative budgets.

The financial insolvency we are facing at the hands of elected officials in Frankfort reflects the same incidences of neglect beginning with underfunding support for our children, progressing to our overcrowded prisons and now, in part, being resolved on the backs of our pensioners.

This cycle of neglect must be disrupted.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services must fill an $86.6 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. The brunt of cuts will be borne by the Child Care Assistance Program by reducing family income eligibility and a moratorium on new child-care assistance applications from April 2013 through June 2014.

Budget cuts at the state level will mean greater cost to local communities. Families will be forced to choose between paying for child care and working. Children exposed to or experiencing abuse and neglect are likely to become lifetime costs to our local educational, health care and correctional systems. Financial considerations aside, these cuts lay the groundwork for a generation of lost opportunity and hope for the kids that are affected.

Why invest in assistance to low-income working and single-parent families? In Kentucky, 26 percent of children are in low-income working families, 36 percent in single-parent families and 37 percent in families where no parent has full time year-round employment.

Reducing the eligibility for child-care assistance will force parents living marginally above the poverty line, whose options are already limited, to make choices that will undoubtedly negatively affect their, and their children's, lives.

An estimated 8,400 Kentucky families, about 20,000 children, are expected to lose child-care assistance in June. Additionally, 1,600 families, about 2,900 children on average a month, will be unable to even apply for child care assistance as of April 2013.

Child-care cost in Kentucky averages $6,594 annually. As proposed, a single mother of two, earning between $18,530 and $27,795, will no longer receive assistance with child-care expenses. These expenses will consume 23 percent to 33 percent of her income before paying for basic housing, food and health.

Parents currently receiving child-care assistance could lose, or choose to leave, their jobs without it, deciding they are better off staying at home. The loss of this assistance drastically diminishes the incentive to work and makes it difficult for parents to pursue anything more than part-time employment.

The moratorium on new child-care applications will bar all families from accessing any state child-care assistance and will be an obstacle for unemployed families. The inability to afford child care will force families to stay on public assistance even where there might be other options available.

This moratorium also eliminates care alternatives for children in high-risk situations for at least one year, a year that could be detrimental to their development and have far-reaching consequences for their future health, social development and school performance.

It is time for us to become a voice for our children, demanding not parity but priority in funding those who begin life at a tremendous disadvantage. It is impossible for minimum-wage earners to provide for those at either the beginning or end of their lives. The job of government is to fill that void before it becomes a catacomb of injustice that we cannot morally or financially afford.

Timothy F. Guthrie is treasurer and board member of The Nest-Center for Women Children and Families, Inc. in Lexington.

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