Restoration of funding to a program that helps pay child care for poor parents won't begin until August, a month later than planned, state officials said this week.
That has left some cash-strapped child-care centers in the lurch. Many working parents who had hoped to get back into the program now have a longer wait.
"I am just hoping that we can make it through July," said Dan Lowe, owner of Big Blue Bird in Lexington, one of Lexington's oldest and largest child-care centers. "We all thought that it was going to start up July 1. Now they're telling us we've got to wait another month or another two months."
Terry Brooks of Kentucky Youth Advocates, a Louisville nonprofit, said a one- to two-month delay was too long.
"A week or month delay may not be a big deal to folks in Frankfort," Brooks said. "But to parents and child-care centers, that delay is a very real crisis with immediate and long-term consequences."
Child-care providers and parents cheered when the legislature agreed in April to restore some of the cuts to the program that helps poor parents pay for child care.
The cuts began last year as a result of an $86 million shortfall in the child-care assistance program, or CCAP, that helps pay child-care bills for working parents. As part of the cuts, no new children were accepted into the program after April 1, 2013.
Last July, the maximum allowed income dropped from 150 percent of the poverty level — $33,075 for a family of four — to 100 percent of poverty level, or $22,050 for a family of four. Parents were notified at the time of their annual certifications. In other words, the cuts were rolling, and children were cut from the program during the past 12 months.
Money to restore the cuts was included in the two-year budget approved by the legislature in April. That money was to restore income maximums to 125 percent of poverty in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and 150 percent in fiscal year 2016. The legislature allocated an additional $38.6 million to the program for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $58.1 million for the 2016 fiscal year.
Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the cabinet hopes to begin taking applications between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1 from parents whose income falls under 125 percent of poverty. However, the date that the cabinet will begin accepting applications has not been finalized. The cabinet will give providers notice before the program accepts new applications. The delay was caused in part because the cabinet was trying to figure out whether it could include families with higher income in the first year.
“The cabinet continues to look at the possibility of increasing the income eligibility level above 125 percent,” in the coming fiscal year, Midkiff said. “The cabinet’s decision on how to implement the CCAP funds included in the upcoming biennial budget beginning July 1 is still pending as we are hopeful that we will be able to accomplish this.”
During the first six months of the cuts, nearly 14,000 children were removed from the program because their parents made too much money. From July to November, more than 200 child-care centers that accepted subsidies closed. It's difficult to say whether the cuts to the program were directly tied to those centers closing their doors, cabinet officials said.
Many child-care centers that have not closed are struggling.
Lowe said he had made dozens of phone calls during the past two weeks to various government agencies trying to determine why no decision had been made on how the cuts would be restored. Lowe learned through the news media that parents probably would not be able to reapply to the program until August .
Midkiff said the cabinet would alert providers about the application process "as soon as a decision is made and details of the plan are finalized," Midkiff said. "We urge the provider community to be patient as we continue to look for opportunities to enhance the (money) appropriated to support this important program."
Big Blue Bird has been open since 1972. It managed to stay open even through the recession. But the number of employees has dropped with the number of children at the center. During the past 12 months, Big Blue lost an average of nine kids a month due to cuts in the child-care assistance program.
"We had 46 employees a year ago, and now we have 31 employees," Lowe said. He had 220 children in his program before the cuts; now there are 160.
Jeannie Broughton, development officer for the Ashland Child Development Center in Ashland, said her center had lost 21 children since the cuts took effect.
"We are losing $9,000 to $12,000 a month," Broughton said. "For a nonprofit, that's a lot of money."
Adrienne Bush, executive director of the Hazard-Perry County Community Ministries in Hazard County, said its child-care program had lost more than 25 kids.
"We have one mother who calls us nearly every week to ask us if we've heard anything," Bush said about the restoration of the cuts. "She wants to come back July 1."
Bush said a lack of consistent funding makes it more difficult to provide a high-quality early childhood education. She also has had to delay capital improvements.
The center's employees have worked hard during the past two years, but it hasn't been able to give them raises because of the child-care assistance cuts, Bush said. She had hoped that with restoration of the cuts July 1, she could finally give her employees — many of whom receive barely more than minimum wage — a raise. But those raises will have to wait.
"We all thought that July 1 would be the light at the end of the tunnel," Bush said.
It's been hard on parents and kids too, Lowe said.
He said a single mother was cut from the program in June. Lowe said they thought she would be able to get back in on July 1 or in August. Now it could be several more months before she knows whether she can qualify for assistance, he said.
"I see several of my former clients all the time," Lowe said. "They are no longer working because they can't afford child care."