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Tue April 22, 2014

What's Next as Kentucky Begins Restoring Its Child Care Subsidy Program

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 Because of action by the General Assembly in the just-closed legislative session, more low-income working Kentucky families will be eligible for the state's subsidy to help  them cover child care costs, state officials said.

But the state agency that runs the Child Care Assistance Program is still "analyzing options" for how to implement the increase for the 2014-15 fiscal year, officials tell WFPL.

Last winter, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced drastic cuts CCAP because of a budget shortfall. The program was frozen to new applicants and the eligibility requirements were changed. Before the cuts, a family of four qualified with a monthly income of no more than $2,794. After the cuts, the same family couldn't earn more than $1,863.

The program was a necessary benefit for parents who relied on state support to have someone professional watch their kids while they worked, Kentucky child advocates said. Meanwhile, child care providers said the loss of business would cost jobs in the state.

Before the cuts, CCAP was set up to help an average of 44,000 children per month. Since July 1, the program has served an average of about six percent fewer families per month, cabinet officials said. That adds up over the course of a year. Here's a comparison of March 2013 to last month:

Credit Joseph Lord/WFPL News

Thousands of families were left with the choice of quitting work or finding child care outside of a professional day care center—and those centers faced job cuts because of the lost business, advocates argued. And the argument appears to have worked. 

“I think this clearly was a lesson of the impact of urgency," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "I don’t think there were many issues that were on the General Assembly’s plate that resonated with more on the ground stories and real folks with urgency.”

In the state's new two-year budget, the General Assembly allotted CCAP $38.8 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year and $58.3 million for the following fiscal year—the latter number brings CCAP back to its 2011 levels, when 44,000 children could be served, the cabinet said.

But the cabinet is still deciding how to implement an increased level starting in July, officials said.

Brooks said the additional funds should allow the cabinet to fund CCAP at 125 percent of the federal poverty level in 2014-15 and at 150 percent of the FPL (the 2011 level) in 2015-16.

It's less than what Gov. Steve Beshear asked for. But Brooks said he was pleased with the legislature's attention to children's issues in the 2014 session.

Kentucky Youth Advocates, one of the groups pushing over the past year for restoration of CCAP, has had discussion with the cabinet.

“We don’t want there to be waiting lists," Brooks said. "We don’t want families that are eligible, that perhaps lost eligibility, we want them fully restored when July 1 comes

"We have seen nothing from the cabinet except good faith conversations about how to do it.”

Other issues remain as the cabinet works toward full restoration (the 150-percent of FPL level in 2015-16), though, officials said. Congress will have to reauthorize the program that provides federal funds for the child care program in Kentucky and throughout the U.S., and the state is planning a big push into improving childhood development that may affect child care centers.

The cabinet adds:

Possible issues for the future include child care rate increases, how to further incent the child care rate structure to reward quality and promote accountability, etc. Additionally, CCAP depends heavily on federal funds through the Child Care Development Fund and, to a lesser extent, tobacco settlement funds. Changes to either of those funding streams could impact the program, either positively or negatively.

(Image via Shutterstock)