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Beshear restores funds to children's agencies

The leaders of agencies that help some of Kentucky's difficult-to-place foster children said Friday they were relieved by Gov. Steve Beshear's announcement that $4 million in federal stimulus money would be used to restore funds to residential treatment centers.

The rate at which the state reimburses the centers was cut in February because of lower state revenues.

"I'm delighted. We were in very serious jeopardy," said Kaye Jones Templin, chief executive officer of Gateway Children's Services in Mount Sterling. "We had cut everything to the bone. We froze spending. We had to lay off some people. When your staff is affected, your children are affected."

Gateway provides one of the few 24-hour emergency children's shelters in the state, Templin said.

In Louisville, Gordon S. Brown, president and CEO of Home of the Innocents, called the news "a huge relief."

"These are the most desperate kids in our commonwealth. They are generally victims," Brown said.

At the beginning of February, the reimbursement rates paid to private child-care agencies were reduced by 7 percent, or about $4.5 million, over four months. That included $1.4 million in state General Fund dollars and $3.1 million in federal dollars.

But Friday, Beshear announced that as of June 1, the rates are being restored to the January 2009 level. For Gateway, that means an additional $10,000 each month, Templin said.

Restoring the rates for June 2009 through December 2010 will use approximately $4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the federal stimulus package.

About 50 child-caring and child-placing agencies in Kentucky provide services to more than 3,200 of the 7,000 children in state custody in foster care.

"We understand that this boost is time-limited, and will expire on Dec. 31, 2010," Beshear said Friday. "However, we felt it was critical to these agencies' survival to provide as much relief as possible while the opportunity was available."

Beshear said it was important to provide the money while agencies were preparing their budgets for the coming fiscal year.

Templin said while the rates were cut, her group had to increase its capacity by four beds, but still couldn't meet the demand.

Brown said that even with the restoration of money, the agencies are still underfunded.

"I hate to look the gift horse in the mouth — this does bring us back to the rates established in January," he said. "But even at that time we were still not being fully reimbursed for the true costs of the services."