During the fall of 2017, much of the talk and focus in Frankfort was around the budget and pensions. Questions abounded among those watching for signs of what this budget would hold. What would pension reform look like? Would tax reform be taken up at the same time? If not, what cuts would state agencies face? The wait ended in mid-January with the release of the Governor’s proposed Executive Branch Budget for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Given the concerns about how significant cuts could have been, the budget priorities were a relief in many aspects – but not all areas – for Kentucky’s children.
Current financial challenges have created the need for hard fiscal choices, yet in many ways the proposed budget represents both bold leadership on addressing the longstanding pension issues and on protecting investments in children. The budget provides an investment into our kids’ futures by providing enhanced funding to address child abuse and neglect, and for that we commend Governor Bevin.
- The budget includes provisions that would lift the moratorium on the Kinship Care program. Relatives often step up to care for children who can’t remain safely with parents, but since 2013 they have done so without financial help. The commitment to lift the moratorium represents a substantial win for children who have experienced abuse or neglect, and is increasingly important given the increase in children out of home and the lasting impacts of the opioid crisis.
- The budget makes investments to strengthen hiring and retention of front line social workers, which means child abuse and neglect cases will be better handled, improving outcomes for children and shortening time children spend in care.
- Funding was also adds to areas of the budget that cover such programs as Family Preservation, which keeps families safely together and reduces the need for foster care for children. Adoption and foster care also received a boost in the proposed budget, which can help children find permanent homes if they can’t remain with family. Investments such as this are good for Kentucky kids and good for the future of Kentucky.
- The budget also includes provisions for funding for prevention and treatment for substance abuse. With a growing number of kids removed from parents struggling with addiction, we know that substance abuse treatment is a key piece of the puzzle in ensuring children have a stable and safe home environment. We applaud the focus on treatment for pregnant women and hope programs for parents with children, like START (Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams), also see investment. Addressing treatment needs of pregnant women and parents with proven programs not only addresses parental addiction and the safety of children, but also can save state dollars in avoided medical costs for newborns and avoided costs of foster care.
While we celebrate the many investments for children in the proposed budget, we also are concerned about several areas subject to cuts.
- First among those cuts are in education funding for transportation and certain insurance costs that school districts will have to cover. While we applaud the Governor for holding SEEK funding constant, school officials are warning that cuts in transportation and insurance will mean districts have to shift funds around to cover expenses. Leading up to the budget, there was discussion of drastic cuts to the SEEK formula, which is used to allocate funding to the school districts. Thankfully, this budget made no cuts to that vital formula. We know Kentucky’s future success depends on a strong, educated workforce, so it’s important to understand how the proposed budget cuts will impact our students.
- Other areas of concern are making sure vital programs that support children and families – like the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and the HANDS program for expecting and new parents – don’t take cuts when additional investments are really needed.
- Also, we need to ensure working parents have access to safe and reliable care for their children by including funding to adequately reimburse child care providers who participate in the child care assistance program and allowing more parents to access the support so they can join and stay in the workforce.
In a climate of tough budget decisions in Kentucky, we appreciate the many areas of investment for children and families the Governor’s proposed budget provides. We know investments that protect kids from abuse and neglect have been a unifying goal and it is promising to see legislators from both parties share a common interest in protecting investments in children’s education. At Kentucky Youth Advocates we look forward to working with the Governor and members of the Kentucky House and Senate to achieve a strong final budget for Kentucky kids and families.