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Kentucky Child Care Subsidy Lacks Stability Even After Deep Cuts Start on Monday

Drastic cuts to a Kentucky program that offers financial assistance for child care costs to low-income working families go into effect Monday with little hope of full restoration anytime soon.In fact, the state official whose agency administers the subsidy said it's still not exactly stable—that's because the program is based on projections that could change if demand is higher than expected among those who still qualify. Plus, the program depends on state and federal budgets—each of which can fluctuate in the future.State officials announced in January that the Child Care Assistance Program would be drastically cut because of a budget shortfall.“I think stability is an unknown now," said Theresa James, commissioner of the state Department for Community Based Services, which administers CCAP and regulates Kentucky's child care centers. "We have based our cuts on projections; we are hoping that those projections are accurate. But there are block grants on a federal level that we receive funding through that there are federal discussions about the continuation, there’s sequestration, there’s federal budgets and state budgets."So I think to ask about the stability, I can’t project that. My hope is that we are, but I will tell you that changes in federal and state funding to this department will require changes on the department’s behalf.”Child advocates argue that the cuts means parents will quit jobs to stay home with their children—and instead rely on welfare programs. It also means parents will rely on "underground" day cares—people who care for children but don't get required licenses.A Louisville Parent's FearsCatherine Kaiser wants to own a day care someday.She’s going to Sullivan University and plans to study early childhood education. She works a Valley Station day care, too.But Kaiser relies on the Child Care Assistance Program to help cover the costs of her 4-year-old son Cruz's day care—and she’s going to lose it in November when her contract with the state ends.“I honestly have no plan," Kaiser said. "I don’t know what I would do besides not work and have to apply for additional benefits like housing, and rent assistance, and food stamps and Medicaid and all of that.”CCAP was frozen for new applicants in April. This week, the income level that a family needed to qualify spikes. In the past, a household of two like Kaiser’s qualified with an income of about $1,839 per month or less.That limit drops to around $1,226. Kaiser said she won't qualify after Monday.A family of four used to qualify for CCAP with a monthly income of $2,794 or less. Starting Monday, it's $1,863.It cost an average of $5,766  per year to send a 4-year-old to a Kentucky child care center in 2011, according to the 2012 Kids Count County Data Book.In other words, a family of two with an annual income of $15,000 would have to devote 38 percent of those earnings to child care.The cuts are projected to effect about 8,700 families per month throughout Kentucky—and keep a total of 14,300 kids out of the program each month who would have previously qualified.What the Cuts Mean StatewideSusan Vessels, the director of the Louisville advocacy group Community Coordinated Child Care, said the parents who lose CCAP will have few choices once their contracts run out.“You know, all of those folks are out there working every day, doing the very best they can do for their kids," Vessels said. "They’re not on welfare. All they're getting is this help with child care."Kids don’t take care of themselves. Somebody has to be there.”Vessels said those families may also send their kids to "underground" day cares—for example, neighbors who take care of kids but aren’t inspected by the state. It could become a dangerous situation for some children.The cuts will also mean that child care centers will lose business—some may close, others may reduce their offerings or increase prices, Vessels said. We'll have more on that in the coming days.James, from the Department for Community Based Services, said she shares those concerns, but she added that her department had few options. “What needs to come is dollars," James said. "We don’t have the dollars in the department, or within the cabinet and agencies, quite frankly, they don’t have the dollars. We need financial support for these families in order to continue to support this type of program.”James said her department considered every possible option to avoid the cuts, but could find no alternatives. She said she's met with youth advocates and also with legislative leaders; no immediate ways of staving off the cuts has been found yet, however.In a statement, Gov. Steve Beshear argues that Kentucky needs more revenue through tax reform to address the budget shortfall.“The commonwealth has sustained $1.6 billion in budget cuts over the past five years," Beshear said in the statement. "Clearly, these difficult decisions were made after exhausting all available options, including a review of any other funds which could mitigate the impact."Kaiser said she wishes the state would find a way—any way—to restore the money.“It’s a domino effect," she said. "When you lose your assistance program, you lose your job; when you lose your job, you lose your income. When you lose your income, you’ve lost all hope.”She doesn’t want to quit her job. She wants to stay in school. But someone has to watch her son.She worries about taking her son away from day care workers he’s known for years— about breaking those relationships.And she doesn’t want to let go of her dream of owning a day care someday.“I use the Child Care Assistance Program as my backbone to move up in the world," Kaiser said. "I use it to go to school and obtain a college degree so I can go into a job field and never have to rely on that assistance again. And I do go to work. So I feel like I’m being punished for trying.”(Image via Shutterstock)

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.