Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
In the best of times, crafting a budget is a complicated and difficult challenge. In these times of fiscal constraints, growing needs, and a less than certain economic future, crafting a budget is about making the toughest of decisions. As we think about the proposed budget and Kentucky’s kids, and given the tight budget constraints, it is important to highlight the wins.
There is no question that Kentucky’s most vulnerable kids won with this budget. The budget puts real money behind child welfare reform, whether that is in the form of supports to implement the 6th Circuit Court decision around supports for relative caregivers or significant dollars to strengthen the quality and depth of frontline social workers. This budget also reinforces the vital role of Guardians ad Litem and recognizes the particularly key role that CASA plays for children in the courts. These are clear examples of the commitment to support the families and professionals who step up for those children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
Another example of those wins for kids is reflected in specific funding issues around K-12 schools, such as SEEK and transportation dollars. In the K-12 arena, we were also especially pleased to hear of full funding for the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs) as that element is so vital to ensuring students receive supports around health, food security, and family assistance.
Kids, in fact, won in major and substantive ways. And yet there are still some, “What if’s?”
As an example, the inclusion of kinship care supports – after the years of no support emanating from the Beshear Moratorium – is a major step ahead for Kentucky families. However, the General Assembly’s reduction of the level of support from the Governor’s budget represents lost opportunity as we know that thousands of Kentucky children are being cared for by kin.
Another “what if” is in how the tax reform changes impact low-income families. While encouraged to see the budget does not include the much-discussed grocery tax – which would’ve had a serious impact on those least able to afford it – low-income working families and local economies would have benefited from a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Additionally, without increasing the cigarette tax to a dollar, people will likely just pay more in taxes without the incentive to quit smoking and improve health.
As the independent voice for Kentucky’s kids, the state budget is never an easy topic to tackle. It would be easy to simply complain about what is not there and tempting to overplay what is there. A thoughtful reflection on this proposal does call on us to celebrate the considerable level of success for Kentucky kids that this budget brings.