Senator says child care funds should be restored ... but how? Perhaps by ending swag?

02/21/2013 08:15 AM

The top Senate Republican on health and welfare issues said the state should be able to find $66 million to reverse what advocates called “the worst action our state government has ever taken against low income” Kentuckians.

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, told her fellow senators Wednesday that the state’s Health and Family Services Cabinet needs to reverse cuts announced last month that would end child care stipends for low income families who earn slightly more than the federal poverty rate.

Health Cabinet Secretary Audrey Haynes has said the child care cuts were regrettable but a last resort to close a $86.6 million hole in the cabinet’s budget. Ending the subsidized child care for families earning between 100 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty rate would be painful, Haynes said. But four state budget cuts to the agency forced officials hands, she said.

Denton, however, said the state could restore the child care subsidies if it could find $66 million, perhaps through discretionary funds, she said.

“In the big scheme of things for state government, it’s not that much money. And I feel certain we can find those dollars and do some shifting if necessary so that between April 1 and the end of the fiscal year that we can ensure that parents across the state have access to safe, clean and healthy child care,” she said prompting applause from many in the committee room.

But Gov. Steve Beshear, in a statement, said there were no such pots of money left. He said:

“The Commonwealth has sustained $1.6 billion in budget cuts over the past five years. Clearly, these difficult decisions were made after exhausting all available options, including a review of any other funds which could mitigate the impact. Rather than pointing to unidentified discretionary funds which do not exist, a constructive approach for those concerned about this is to help identify potential revenue sources. We are focused on comprehensive tax reform to help address these programs as well as the pension liability and the future of the Commonwealth, our children and their education.”

As child and family advocates outlined the effects of the cuts, at least one brought a suggestion to make up the money.

Gerry Roll, executive director of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, said certain early childhood programs shouldn’t get “another dime” until the child care stipends are restored because the other programs apparently have more money than they need.

She said she attended a conference last week in which a representative from a program aimed at helping pregnant women with substance abuse problems handed out free stuff. The KIDS NOW Plus program is funded by the Kentucky Early Childhood Development Authority and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant funds.

“The woman from KIDS NOW Plus stood up and said, ‘We had money left over, they’re sending us more money next month. We needed to spend it. So does anybody need gel pens, car chargers, cups, posty-notes? Swag,” she said as she dumped a cup of the freebies on the committee room table. Watch the video:

Other advocates, meanwhile, warned that the effects of the cuts to child care subsidies could have wide social and economic effects.

For instance, Jack Burch, executive director of the Community Action Council, told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that affected parents will have to choose between working and taking care of their children.

He said if the average cost of child care is $500 per month, that leaves a parent with a minimum wage job with about $700 a month left to cover rent, food and transportation.

And Christen Tipton of Southside Christian Childcare in Louisville said the economic effects will spread to layoffs of daycare workers. She also said not having care puts the children at risk. Here’s how:

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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