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ISSUE: Child care assistance cuts
OUR VIEW: Plan hurts families, won’t help Kentucky
Many struggling Hardin County families soon will lose a lifeline as the Kentucky Department of Community Based Services slashes its budget for child care assistance.
Cost-saving measures include decreasing the maximum income of those eligible, taking the maximum household income for a family of four from $35,325 to $23,550.
Consider a two-person family. A single parent of one child working a 40-hour week and earning $7.50 per hour — a quarter more than minimum wage — no longer qualifies for assistance under the revised plan. Already struggling to pay for basic needs, that parent will face full-price child care costs.
In a small sampling of licensed Hardin County providers, care for one child costs $85 to $150 per week depending on the age of the child and the facility.
The math won’t work for most poor families. And there are many. The subsidies enable an estimated 2,277 Hardin County children to attend daycare or preschool and as many as 40 percent of those children will no longer be eligible.
Short the full price of licensed child care, child care authorities warn, many parents will quit their jobs to care for their children themselves. This will create new needs. It might help the state agency’s budget, but it would increase the burden on public agencies that provide assistance for housing, food and health care.
Plus, it will dash any hopes those parents had of gaining new skills, finding higher-paying jobs and supporting their families on their own.
Parents who keep working will be forced to choose the cheapest child care available. Some will get lucky and find safe, nurturing, inexpensive babysitters. Others will have to employ subpar services that aren’t regulated and might not offer an environment that fosters early development.
Study after study tells us early education pays for itself many times over, but the child care assistance cuts will halt some of that investment.
In addition to the eligibility adjustment, no applications for assistance will be accepted from April 1 to June 30, 2014. Not even the poorest of the poor will be entertained. That’s expected to affect 2,900 children each month. Also, a moratorium on new kinship care stipends — $300 per month to relatives caring for children who would otherwise be in foster care — begins in April.
The result of the child care cuts will be thousands of at-risk children coming to public schools less prepared. This will create greater needs in education.
Public preschools will help some, but those programs only accept 4-year-olds on an income basis and might not be able to handle a sharp increase in demand.
Additionally, there could be consequences to small businesses. There are 77 licensed child care centers in Hardin County and losing the clients who use subsidies could force some to close or cut quality. There are about 450 child care workers, earning an average annual salary of $18,600, in the Elizabethtown area, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Child care is not a financially lucrative career, but those jobs still would be difficult to replace.
Of all the state’s budget woes, this package of cuts has the potential to have the most profound impact on families since these hard economic times began. It will break them in ways that will take years to repair.
Taking a comprehensive view, it’s not going to help government budgets. The savings in child care assistance will push the burden to welfare programs and public education.
Maybe it’s time budgets, cabinets, departments, agencies, offices and commissions are as comprehensive as the people they’re meant to serve.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.