This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Kentucky Lantern and Herald Leader on January 31, 2023.

By Norma Hatfield

Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Lantern

Robert F. Kennedy said, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” For the children of Kentucky, we certainly have our work cut out for us.

For several years, Kentucky was #1 in child abuse and neglect. Right now, we’re ranked #5.  We place many of these children with relatives or with close family friends in what is known as “kinship care.”

The kinship care relatives aren’t the biological parents but are grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even older siblings. In Kentucky, there are approximately 59,000 children raised in kinship care. Of those 59,000 children, 58,000 kids are being raised by their grandparents.

What’s troubling is when these children are placed with kinship caregivers and into the child welfare system, there’s just not enough supports for them. While we are slowly getting better, we just aren’t where we should be.

It’s important to note that many kinship caregivers have worked all their lives and contributed to society. I’ve had communications with thousands across Kentucky who are struggling as they take these kids in and do their best with very little.

Some are in their 40s and 50s and oftentimes lose their jobs because they take in babies born addicted to drugs; some lose their jobs because traumatized kids require so much therapy and treatments that they just can’t work; some are in their 60s and 70s living on Social Security or disability. Many are taking more than one child. For example, sibling groups of three to five children.

Over time, they’re draining savings accounts, losing their cars and homes all in the goal of keeping these kids out of foster care.

One of the resources that Kentucky legislators and the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) have pointed relative-kinship caregivers towards is the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP). KTAP is temporary financial assistance for those who are at 40% and below the federal poverty level (FPL). For example, that’s a family of four with a gross income of about $1,096 a month.

There are many things about KTAP that should be changed at both the state and federal level, but right now our Kentucky legislators have a big opportunity to help families as DCBS has proposed an increase in the amount allocation. According to DCBS during an administrative hearing on Dec. 13, these federal funds are already available and do not affect the Kentucky state budget.

When I first became aware of the proposed KTAP increase, I was shocked to learn that the monthly amount that families receive hasn’t been increased since December 1995. There’s been no consideration to inflation or cost of living whatsoever.

From 1995 till now, this program, for example, has provided someone with four children only $328 a month. Now, DCBS wants to increase that to $656 a month, which in a period of 27 years is seriously overdue, especially with the levels of inflation today.

In good conscience, I have to ask: How is it acceptable to keep benefits for these low-income families — those struggling to keep traumatized and abused children out of foster care — at the same level for 27 years? How is that okay?

At the Dec. 13 hearing, former Rep. Mary Lou Marzian  she shared that the legislature voted its members a cost of living raise; Marzian shared that it’s also important for  lawmakers to take care of our vulnerable kids and these families.

So many of us have received some type of cost of living increase over the years, but our low-income families have been forgotten. It’s time to do the right thing.

I know many of our legislators, and they work hard on behalf of the kids of Kentucky. In fact, many are champions for our children. We need them all to step up and address this oversight right away – an oversight that is almost three decades old.

The KTAP funds are there and for this purpose. Legislators need to approve the proposed KTAP regulations to help our Kentucky families now.

Norma Hatfield of Elizabethtown has been raising two grandchildren for the past eight years. She is president of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky and a member of the Grand Voice Network with Generations United.