Kentucky trailing in child care aid; Congress, legislature should step up

In the four months since Kentucky began phasing in draconian cuts in child care, 91 of the state's 2,000-plus child care centers have closed.

Kentucky's income requirements have become the most restrictive on working parents of any state, and we are one of only two states that have a freeze on applications for child care assistance, according to a recently released annual study by the National Women's Law Center.

Some states are rebounding from the recession by restoring and increasing child care funding, the national study reports, but Kentucky is speeding headlong in the opposite direction.

This is a dangerous direction for Kentucky, in terms of the immediate safety of young children and the long-term effects on education, the work force and the state's economy.

Both Congress and the legislature must step up and find funding to help low-income parents hold onto jobs while caring for our youngest citizens.

Federal funding, the main source of child care subsidies to help working families, has long been stagnant and losing ground to inflation. The federal sequestration is aggravating an already dire situation.

In Kentucky, the child care budget has been further strained by an increase in children who are in the care of grandparents or other relatives. The number of children in kinship care increased from 9,750 in 2009 to 11,400 in 2012.

This increase in need came as the legislature was slashing funding for community-based services, including child care and protection, by $59 million in recent years.

Relatives who began caring for abused or neglected children after last April were no longer eligible for $300 monthly stipends. This was expected to save $8.3 million of the $57.8 million in child care cuts. More than 14,000 children in almost 9,000 families are expected to lose subsidies, making child care unaffordable for them.

It's impossible to say with certainty that all 91 of Kentucky's child care center closings are because of the cuts, but we can assume that's why most of these centers are shutting down.

It's also too early to say what's happening to the families who are losing the subsidies that enable parents and grandparents to hold down jobs, knowing that their youngsters are safe.

Already there are anecdotal reports of parents quitting low-paying jobs and going back on public assistance because they can't afford child care.

What will happen to the children of parents who can't quit their jobs because they've reached their lifetime limits on public assistance? That question should weigh heavily on Kentuckians.

We can assume that some children will be staying in settings that are less than desirable and even unsafe.

President Barack Obama has proposed an early-childhood initiative that would expand access to preschool and increase support for high-quality child care.

Kentucky Republicans looking for common ground with Democrats could do their state a huge favor by supporting such investments in the future.

To read the National Women's Law Center's report, "Pivot Point: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2013," go to NWLC.org/resource/pivot-point-state-child-care-assistance-policies-2013.