Spending cuts on child care subsidies for poor families have contributed to the closing of more than 80 child care centers in Kentucky, and as many as 25,000 children could be dropped from the program in the next year, advocates said Wednesday.
"We're in a lose, lose, lose, lose situation" said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, a nonprofit group that advocates for children.
Brooks told the state legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare that child care centers have closed in every region of the state since cuts to the child care assistance program began in April.
"The best estimates that we have is that some 87 centers closed since the initiation of these cuts," Brooks said.
Some new centers have popped up, but those are generally smaller sites that offer lower-quality care, he said. Parents have had to quit jobs because they can no longer afford child care, he said.
Brooke Anderson told the committee she might have to quit her job at Home of the Innocents, a nonprofit treatment center for adolescents, because her child care assistance money will probably be cut on Jan. 1, 2014. Many employees at Home of the Innocents depend on the child care assistance program, she said.
Anderson, who has three kids, said she can't pay the full amount for child care on her salary.
"It just doesn't seem fair," she said.
The state implemented the cuts to the program in April after it was announced that there was an $86.6 million shortfall in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services budget for the Department for Community Based Services, which oversees child and adult protection and several welfare-related programs.
Beginning in April, there was a moratorium on applications to the child care assistance program. In July, the income threshold for parents in the program changed from 150 percent of the poverty level — $33,075 for a family of four — to 100 percent of the poverty level — $22,050 for a family of four.
Parents have been terminated from the program as their eligibility comes up for review.
State officials estimated that 8,700 families will no longer receive the stipend because of the lower income guidelines that took effect in July. An additional 2,900 children a month will be turned away because of the moratorium on new applicants that began in April.
In 2012, the child care assistance program served 24,400 families, and 48,000 children received child care assistance money. The average monthly subsidy was $376 a family. A family member must be working to receive the child care subsidy.
Also in April, the state stopped offering a $300 monthly stipend to grandparents or other family members raising children who have been removed from their home. Those receiving the stipend before April will continue to get the money, but no new applications will be accepted, cabinet officials have said.
Brooks urged legislators Wednesday to restore funding to the two programs during the 2014 legislative session, which begins in January.
Kentucky ranks 50th nationwide in the amount of money it spends on child care assistance. Instead of making it harder to get child care assistance, Kentucky should offer the subsidy to working parents who make income up to 200 percent of the poverty level, Brooks urged.
"Simply put, we want the coming budget to move Kentucky from where it currently sits in these supports — 50th out of 50 — towards meeting national standards," Brooks said before Wednesday's meeting.
House Health and Welfare Chairman Tom Burch, D-Louisville, cautioned Wednesday that the state might not have much additional money in coming years to restore funding to the program. Instead, legislators will have to make kids a top concern, he said.
"We should shift our priorities back to the children," Burch said.