By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Kentucky Youth Advocates estimates 63,000 children in Kentucky live with family members other than their parents or with family friends.
Two of them live with their grandmother, Dorothy McNair of Berea, who refers to such children as “our gift packages.”
But those “gift packages” come at high prices, she said. It’s hard for her to pay for the children’s basic needs, meet her own expenses and somehow pay for things like youth activities for the children. And it’s hard physically — she sometimes needs a break.
The $300 a month she and other Kinship Care givers isn’t much — but it makes a big difference for her and for her two grandchildren.
But that’s going to be harder because the state is reducing funding for Kinship Care and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) by freezing applications for funding and by tightening income eligibility requirements.
In all, the state estimates it will save about $66 million. But a line of grandparents, child caregivers and youth advocates Tuesday said at a public hearing conducted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services the reductions will ultimately cost the state a lot more than it saves on the front end.
Pat Tennant of KYA said many of those children will end up in foster care for which the state will pay more. She said Kinship Care pays parents $300 a month but it costs the state $2,100 a month for foster care placements.
Helen Deines, a grandmother care giver and a retired professor at Spaulding University, said she understands the cabinet is in a tough position in an era of budget cuts. In three years of budget cuts, Deines said, applications for Kinship Care went up 15,000 a year but the number of Kinship Care and Foster Care placements remained steady.
But, she said, the number of investigations into child abuse and neglect continued to go up, too.
Deines and Tennant said national research shows such child victims who are placed with extended family members recover better and faster than in Foster Care.
Eula Somerville, who cared for a granddaughter and niece through Kinship Care, understands. She was told her niece would never recover sufficiently to reason much beyond the level of a sixth-grade student. Her granddaughter suffered from a heart defect and also wasn’t expected to do well physically or academically.
Both graduated high school with honors and now they room together at Western Kentucky University. But Somerville said she’d never have managed without that $300 a month.
William Noonan has custody of four grandchildren and, “Nobody is going to take my babies from me. I’ll live in a tent in the woods if I have to.”
But without the money from the state and assistance to help with daycare costs, he said, “I’ll have to quit work and then I’ll have to go back on unemployment. Three hundred dollars a month is not nothing to me and my grandkids.”
Grandparents weren’t the only ones who were begging the state to reconsider. A stream of parents, grandparents and daycare administrators predicted cuts to childcare subsidies will force many working poor parents to choose between child care and work.
One speaker predicted “with a 35 percent cut in the child care subsidy, you probably can look at a 35 percent cut in child care centers.”
Kristen Tipton of Southside Church Charities Child Care of Louisville said the cuts will “devastate” child care centers, their parents and even their employees.
When she has to cut their hours and thus their pay, many won’t be able to afford child care for their own children. Money they don’t earn won’t be spent in local businesses, either, affecting an even larger part of the economy.
Gwenda Bond, Assistant Communications Director for the cabinet, said the cabinet’s Department of Community Based Services has worked hard for six years to manage reduced revenues and to avoid reductions prior to this time. The cuts were delayed for a time through federal stimulus funding which has now expired, she said.
“Unfortunately, we have reached a point where there is nothing left to cut, and DCBS was facing a shortfall of approximately $86 million,” Bond said. “The difficult decision to make reductions to child care assistance and kinship care were based on DCBS’s need to meet federal and state mandates, meet core missions and minimize the loss of federal funds.”
Maybe so, said Terry Brooks, director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, but he also reminded Gov. Steve Beshear he has repeatedly called for improvements to early childhood development and education.
“The governor needs to reverse these cuts and protect the thoughtful kinds of investments that support for kinship care and child care represent,” Brooks said.
The public hearing was part of the formal process for implementing new administrative regulations which put into effect the cuts.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.