Politics & Government

Grandparents urge state to reconsider cuts to child care assistance programs

FRANKFORT — Grandparents pleaded with state officials Tuesday to reverse a freeze on new applications for a program that provides $300 in monthly assistance to relatives who take custody of abused and neglected children.

Among those testifying at a public hearing Tuesday was Sandra Flynn of Lexington, who has been caring for five grandchildren — including a set of twins who were born addicted to drugs — for two years. Flynn said she relies on the $300 check per child and a little less than $300 in food stamps to provide for her family of seven.

"I had to quit my job to take care of them," said Flynn, a former nurse. "Why couldn't they cut from somewhere else?"

Flynn and other grandparents who already receive so-called kinship care money will continue to collect payments, but child advocates warned that fewer relatives will have enough money to care for abused children in the future. That means more kids might end up in foster care, which would cost the state more money.

Earlier this year, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced a series of cutbacks aimed at plugging an $86.6 million hole in its budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

In addition to freezing new applications to the kinship care program starting in April, the state has frozen new applications for its Child Care Assistance program until July 1. At that point, it will limit who is eligible for the program, which provides child-care subsidies to working parents.

Starting July 1, the state will only provide child-care assistance money to families at 100 percent of the poverty level — $22,050 for a family of four. The cabinet estimates that as many as 8,600 families could lose assistance.

The state had relied on federal stimulus funding and other one-time money to keep the two popular programs running in past years, but that funding is gone, state officials have said.

Helen Deines, a retired professor of social work at Spalding University, testified Tuesday that more grandparents and relatives are caring for abused and neglected children than ever before. The number of Kentucky children in foster care has remained about the same over the past four years, but the number of kids in kinship care has climbed from 9,750 in 2009 to 11,400 in 2012.

That's good news for those kids, Deines said.

"The research tells us that if you want a maltreated child to do well, put them with their extended family," Deines said.

Child care providers also testified Tuesday that reduced child-care subsidies will hurt kids and the economy. Many parents who rely on the subsidy will have to quit work and sign up for welfare programs, they warned. Other parents will wind up placing their kids in dangerous situations with unfit caregivers.

In addition, advocates said some child care centers that serve mostly low-income families will probably have to close.

"If you're a parent making $8 an hour that means that you make $15,000 a year," said April Trent, owner of Amazing Creations, a child care provider in Frankfort. "Preschool care for an infant is $7,000. We can't expect families to live on $7,000 a year. What if they have two kids?"

Child advocates unsuccessfully tried to sway the legislature to find additional money for the two programs earlier this year.

New regulations that will enact the cuts will be voted on by the legislature's Administrative Regulation Review subcommittee as early as July. But even if the regulations are voted down by the legislative committee, Gov. Steve Beshear can override the committee.

Many at Tuesday's public hearing were frustrated that the state appears poised to enact the cuts.

"Kentucky is not a state that throws away children," Deines said. "But that's exactly what we're doing."