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Greg Stumbo: Kentucky Legislators Unlikely to Restore Child Care, Kinship Programs This Session

Cuts to two state subsidies benefiting Kentucky children have been under criticism from youth advocates since they were announced, but a top state legislator indicates that little will be done to restore the programs in the 2014 General Assembly session.The Child Care Assistance Program gives subsidies for day care costs to low-income parents, so they can work. The Kinship Care program offers $300 per month to adults caring for the children of family members, as an alternative to the costlier foster care.Last year, the programs were frozen to new applicants (with a few exceptions)—and CCAP was made more difficult to qualify for—because of an$86.6-million budget shortfall. It's impossible for the programs to be restored this year without action from the General Assembly, said a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which administers the programs.And that's not looking likely."With the current revenue we have, it's probably not going to be realistic," House Speaker Greg Stumbo told Kentucky Public Radio's Jonathan Meador last week.The 2014 General Assembly session starts Tuesday.The state has a long list of priorities but only $250 million in additional revenue—the Kentucky Center for Economy Policy's director described it as theworst budget outlook in recent memory.Half of the addition $250 million will likely be used for the state's pension liabilities, Stumbo said."So, really, ballpark, about a $120 million or so to spread across a $10 or $11 billion budget, it, unfortunately, after you just do the cost of living and the increased cost of goods and services that are bought by state government, there's just not a whole lot left," Stumbo said.The Child Care Assistance Program was used by 19-percent fewer children—nearly 8,000 kids—in September 2013 compared to a year earlier, the cabinet said. The Kinship Care program had 10 percent fewer children in November 2013 compared to a year earlier. About6 percent of Kentucky childrenlive in kinship circumstances, said a recent Kentucky Youth Advocates report.Now lacking child care, parents who relied on the CCAP subsidy have been forced to quit jobs and enroll in unemployment and welfare programs, child advocates said. Or they've sought unlicensed (and possibly less safe) child care options, such as neighbors or relatives, child advocates warn. Meanwhile, child advocates have warned the Kinship Care cuts will push more children into foster care, which costs an estimated $69 per day (compared to Kinship Care's $10 per day).Cabinet officials have said the cuts were unavoidable—federal funds that bolster the program in recent years dried up.In September, Kentucky Youth Advocates director Terry Brooks said said he and others planned to lobby state legislators to not only restore the programs, but to increase eligibility above previous levels."We are glad that the Speaker is looking out for hard,-working families with discussions around the minimum wage," Brooks said in response to Stumbo's comments.  "At the same time, you can't think about the challenges of those families without restoring the April Fool's Day supports to kinship and child care. The Speaker, President (Robert) Stivers, and the Governor can create a win-win-win-win by making that an imperative in any budget discussion. We know that restoration is a win for kids, families and local economies in the immediate and actually a win for the state budget in the long term."I get it. The commonwealth faces major budget pressures but on the other hand, an emphasis upon children and families is especially important in such times. Budgets are—at their core—are  a reflection of priorities and values. It will be critical to assess just what value that Frankfort leaders place on kids and families in the 2014 session."Update: Stumbo Addresses CCAP on 'Kentucky Tonight'Last night, Stumbo was asked about CCAP on "Kentucky Tonight" on KET.He spoke more optimistically than last week. But, of course, he noted the state's tight funding situation. "That was a big loss, I think. And it takes, I believe, somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million or so to restore that funding. I hope that we can restore that funding. I think it's a very vital part of many people's lives in that situation and I am for restoring that funding. Unfortunately, or fortunately in this situation, we have to balance our budget. We're not like Washington; we can't print money. And there are always needs, particularly in this time of moderate, or very small growth because of the recession we're coming out of. So I don't know the answer to that, but I can promise you we will make every effort to restore all or part of that money."

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.