Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
LOUISVILLE, KY – From the start, the 2021 state budget process was filled with perplexing complexities. One, because the Governor and Kentucky General Assembly were tasked with crafting a continuation budget due to timing constraints brought on by the pandemic during the 2020 legislative session. Two, leaders were faced with tough decisions as Kentucky embraces the ongoing ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how to appropriately utilize federal relief funds coming to the commonwealth. And three, understanding that as a commonwealth we must tackle the systemic injustices that impact our Black and Brown communities so that every child in Kentucky can thrive.
In our analyses, we at Kentucky Youth Advocates always ask – “what’s the impact on Kentucky kids?” And the good news is, we can celebrate several investments in kids in the final state continuation budget passed this week by the General Assembly. This budget includes sustained funds for critical programs and supports, such as Medicaid and the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program; HANDS home-visiting programs; Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, which have been a true lifeline for many families through the duration of the pandemic; as well as the Relative Support Benefit for kinship caregivers who step up to care for some our most vulnerable kids.
We are also celebrating the sustained funding for school-based mental health services and tobacco prevention and cessation programming – while also emphasizing the missed opportunity to increase both pieces of the budget pie as more federal funds come to the commonwealth to support the health and behavioral health of our youngest Kentuckians. The lack of an increase to funds for frontline social workers is also a missed opportunity, especially as we begin to understand the impact stress, economic hardships, and isolation during the pandemic have had on families and child safety.
There are a few huge investment increases for kids that were included by the final gavel of the 2021 legislative session that deserve our celebration and praise, such as the $2 per child per day increase for the Child Care Assistance Program – a critical support that allows parents to go to work knowing their child has access to safe, quality child care; $20 million appropriation to support child abuse and neglect prevention services for families, like those included in the Family First Prevention Services Act; $140 million appropriation to support full day kindergarten, an investment in the early education outcomes of our youngest students; and $300 million appropriation for the infrastructure of broadband services across the commonwealth to ensure every child has adequate access to online learning tools and telehealth services. These examples of pragmatic use of federal relief funds and state dollars will demonstrate the very real dividends of investing in kids and families.
We invite advocates, families, and kids to celebrate these wins while also looking ahead to 2022 and the perplexing complexities that will continue to face state leaders. How can we sustain these critical funding commitments so kids and families can recover and thrive post-pandemic? What would it mean to emulate the proven anti-child poverty measures happening at the federal level, such as the child tax credit, within the state budget? Where does the commonwealth need to continue making investments to address the systemic inequities facing our families and youth of color?
Governor Andy Beshear, Senate President Robert Stivers, and House Speaker David Osborne faced the perplexing complexities with courage and acumen. Let’s ensure that is sustained as we begin looking ahead to the realities of the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly.
Stay up-to-date on Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities and other bills that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.