Katie Williams of Henderson became a caregiver overnight to three young relatives when their parents were arrested on drug charges.
Since that day in 2014 when she rushed to pick up her two nieces and nephew, who were sobbing as police took their parents away in handcuffs, Williams said she has never reconsidered – even though she was forced to quit her job to care for them and has been transformed from a comfortable life to poor and struggling.
“I didn’t lose my house,” she said. “But it’s been rough.”
Thursday, Williams and others in her situation watched as supporters made an impassioned plea to state lawmakers to restore a program known as Kinship Care that provides a monthly stipend to relatives who care for the growing number of children removed from parents because of abuse or neglect.
“Kinship Care is not about bailing out the grandparents,” said Norma Hatfield, an Elizabethtown grandmother who took in two young girls and has led a drive to restore the program the state suspended in 2013 because of a budget shortfall. “The bottom line is that we have to step up and provide for these children no matter where they live.”
Hatfield read from statements provided by Williams and other relatives, many of them grandparents on fixed incomes, to underscore the need for some financial assistance for such families. She cited cases of relatives filing for bankruptcy, exhausting retirement savings and one aunt who sold her car to buy clothes and beds for the children.
Sen. Dennis Parrett, a Democrat from Elizabethtown, has filed a bill to restore the program that provides $300 per month per child to relatives who take in children.
He urged members of the House-Senate human resources budget subcommittee to support it despite Kentucky’s budget problems, which are exacerbated by the state’s underfunded public pensions. Parrett noted that Kentucky child welfare officials can either rely on relatives or more costly foster care for the increasing number of children removed from homes.
Foster parents get about $25 a day or $750 per month compared to Kinship Care, which costs about $10 a day, he said.
State Rep. Russell Webber, a Shepherdsville Republican and co-chair of the committee, didn’t rule out the possibility of funding Kinship Care.
“We’re certainly going to try,” he said after the meeting. “It’s certainly an area I’m interested in.”
Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the cabinet has been seeking ways to fund the program since Gov. Matt Bevin took office in late 2015.
“We’re looking at it,” he said. “It’s an expensive program. We need to find the money for it.”
Meanwhile, a cabinet official told legislators that a recent court ruling that Kentucky must begin paying some relatives who provide foster care will cost $3.5 million to $4 million a year.
Adria Johnson, commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, said the cabinet is working “fast and furious” to identify who is eligible and how to pay those affected by a ruling this year by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Kentucky must pay some relatives who provide foster care the same as it does licensed foster parents.
The ruling became final Oct. 10 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the cabinet’s appeal of the decision.
Johnson said she couldn’t yet tell lawmakers how soon the state will begin making payments but said it appears to affect about 350 children currently placed in temporary care of relatives by the cabinet.
But the ruling applies only to relatives with temporary custody and payments would end once the custody case is resolved with the relative adopting or obtaining permanent custody of the child.
For that reason, Hatfield said it’s essential to restore Kinship Care so such relatives will have some financial support once the foster payments stop.
“It does not help children whose case is closed,” she said. “Kinship Care could pick up where foster care left off.”
Williams said $300 per month per child could make a huge difference in helping her raise her three relatives along with her own two children. Because her two nieces and nephew had significant medical and emotional needs, she had to quit her job to provide the care needed for severe abuse and neglect they had experienced.
The parents are in prison so she can’t get child support, Willliams said in an email Hatfield provided to lawmakers. And it took nearly a year for her to get food stamps and modest welfare payments for the children.
Still, Williams said she has never doubted her decision.
“These three sweet babies are mine to care for, provide for and look over until they are adults,” she said in her email. “I couldn’t be more proud of the people they are becoming. I hope despite all the struggles they see how hard I’ve tried and worked to give them a good life.”