Community

At Keystone Learning Academy in Louisville’s Algonquin neighborhood, 98 of the 100 young children enrolled get financial help from Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance Program. The state subsidizes a large chunk of child care costs for working parents making less than about $33,000 a year for a family of three.

Without that assistance, care here would cost upwards of $200 a week for an infant or toddler. But with assistance from the program, Keystone Executive Director Sharon Hemingway said parents pay around $40.

“[It] gives parents the opportunity to succeed so that they can go out and work and have somebody take care of their kids,” Hemingway said. “If you have three or four children, and you’re paying $40 a week, that is a great savings.”

But $42 million in federal funding means Kentucky is changing the program. As of December 1, parents are able to earn more money and continue getting financial assistance to pay for enrollment. Plus, Kentucky will pay Keystone a little more for each child the center serves.

Higher Income Limits, Increased Reimbursement

During the first half of fiscal year 2018, an average of 28,280 children were in child care using the program assistance each month, according to the state. The state will now allow the parents in the program to make up to about $41,500 dollars a year for a family of three and keep receiving financial help for child care. Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks says this increase in income eligibility is a big win — often in the past, parents had to choose between getting a raise at work and keeping their child care subsidies.

“Ironically, what would happen is that the loss of benefits was so dramatic that you wound up losing money by making money and so it was sort of a an all or nothing proposition,” Brooks said.

In 2014 there were big cuts to this program — the state froze new applications for child care assistance money. State officials also reduced income eligibility from almost $30,000 a year for a family of three to around $19,000 a year.

When those cuts went through, Hemingway said about 30 percent of the children at Keystone stopped coming to the center. Statewide, those changes caused an estimated 10,000 families to lose the child care assistance. Hemingway said many of her former students ended up home alone or with older siblings.

“We saw them together, walking around, we saw them at the park by themselves,” Hemingway said. “You know, their parents, they have to work. And it’s hard, people don’t understand that if you’re a single parent you have to work to be able to have a place for your children to live and have food on the table.”

Eventually the income level went back up, and the hold on applications was lifted. And now, in addition to the income limit increasing for parents already enrolled, parents will qualify for the program if they’re enrolled in college or a trade school. Hemingway said there are several parents at Keystone who work the mandatory hours, but also attend classes.

“If you’re really trying to go to school and you need to study and you have little kids, having to work is really hard,” Hemingway said. “So that’s going to be a good thing.”

Child care centers will also get an extra couple dollars a day per child.  Hemingway said she’s planning to use that extra money to subsidize her workers’ health insurance, and to boost their salaries.

“You know, they are the ones that are there with those children every day. They have a hard job, you know, this is not a well-respected field, early childhood is not,” Hemingway said. “They’re well-deserving of an increase in salary.”

Even with the increase in reimbursement, Brooks with Kentucky Youth Advocates says the pay rate will still need to be increased in coming years.

“We hope that reimbursement escalates over time,” Brooks said. “But, you know, again, let’s be really clear. This is the first time that those providers have gotten that kind of a relief for a long time.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.