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Advocates Call for General Assembly to Intervene as Child Care Assistance Cuts Loom

Community activists on Wednesday asked Kentucky state senators to find ways to stave offdrastic cuts to a program that gives financial assistance to low-income families for child care costs while parents work or go to school.“We made a bargain with low income women on aid to families with dependent children," said Jack Burch, executive director of the Community Action Council in Lexington."You do your part—get as much training and education as you can, enter the workplace—and we will make sure that there are no barriers to prevent you from doing your best to support yourself and your family.”That "bargain" is expected to go away for thousands of families.In April, the Department of Community Based Services will stop taking new applications for the Child Care Assistance Program except in a few circumstances. In July, the eligibility standards will be lower from 150-percent of the federal poverty level to 100-percent.Today,the Child Care Assistance Program helpsa monthly average of 23,700 families—or 42,000 children. After the changes go into effect,  CCAP will serve 15,300—or 28,000 children— each month, according to information provided by the department.Advocates argue that families affected by the cutback s to CCAP will have to quit jobs and instead rely on welfare benefits—or they'll end up using unlicensed child care, which could pose dangers to children. Either way, they argue that the changes will harm the state's efforts to improve early childhood education.Gerry Roll, director of the Foundation for Appalachia Kentucky, said state officials should closely evaluate funding for early childhood education."Sixty-five percent of our children every day are in a child care setting every single day," Roll said. "Until that system is on solid footing, we should not spent another dime on early childhood."Meanwhile, Burch warned of unlicensed, "underground" child care centers.The Child Care Assistance Program was cut because of an $86.6-million shortfall for the Department for Community Based Services. The Kinship Care Program—for adults caring for children of relatives—was also cut.Teresa James, commissioner for Community Based Services, called these cuts the hardest to make in her career.“The real impact I believe will actually come on July first, which on July first is when we reduce the eligibility for assistance,” James said.While several lawmakers expressed concern, they also claim their hands are tied. Since they’re in a short session, Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican and the committee chair, said it would take a special vote to re-open the state budget.Denton said the votes just aren’t there. But, said said it might be taken up later this year, if the general assembly is called into a special session.“I believe with the timing that’s out there and the population that’s being targeted, may be such to put pressure on us to have a special session to address tax reform,” Denton said.Recently, Denton told WFPL that Gov. Steve Beshear could also intervene."I would challenge the governor to find the money already within the cabinet to keep these services, because I think they are important," Denton told WFPL.While saying he supported the child care services, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon Republican, also expressed worries about fraud and wasteful spending.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

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