By Sarah Vanover and Valerie Frost

While the first Benefit Cliffs Task Force meeting centered around what other states were doing to address the benefits cliff, as well as what resources were already available in Kentucky, the second meeting reviewed what happens to a family when they lose child care subsidy and the impact of child care to the Kentucky workforce. Kentucky Youth Advocates, in collaboration with Metro United Way and the Prichard Committee, presented the following information to committee members in August: state of child care in Kentucky and the child care cliff effect

Child care is often the largest single expense for working families, and having more than one child can make it cost prohibitive to work if the family does not receive subsidy. The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is Kentucky’s subsidy program for working families, or parents that are full-time students, that need assistance with child care costs in order to be part of the workforce. 

The average cost of infant care in Kentucky is more expensive than attending a public university. If a family’s wages increase so that it can no longer receive a subsidy to offset the cost of care, then the family could be paying an average of $800 per child per month for full-time care. If the family cannot pay for child care, then the adults in the home may be forced to leave their jobs and easily push a family to need increases in other subsidies for food, housing, and medical care. 

Kentucky families, such as Valerie’s, are counting on this task force and state legislators to ensure a smooth transition for accessing needed benefits as their income grows, not a quick drop off of the benefits cliff.  

Testimonial from Valerie, a Kentucky mom relying on public assistance as a stepping stone:

I spent the summer after I received a classroom award for “Best Handwriting” capitalizing on the increased traffic from the swim club by running a lemonade stand with my neighbor. I think we only made about $125 after days of withstanding unrelenting humidity, but it was the start of inner gratification for a hard day of work. I’m grateful to have been a kid when you didn’t need a business permit for minimally lucrative childhood ventures. 

At 13 years old I became a volunteer at the hospital running patient deliveries and helping in the gift shop and remained there until I was 16 and could finally collect a paycheck as a cashier at CVS Pharmacy. All this to say, I’ve never been one who needed a push to earn my way and contribute to the greater good of my community. 

Things changed drastically, however, when I became a parent with my twins. I went from being working middle-class as a Kindergarten teacher on salary to instantly outnumbered. On top of that, the twins were born via emergency c-section at 28 weeks gestation and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. For the first time in my adult life, I had to turn to social safety net benefits for support. Unfortunately, child care was not an option for me when they came home because even though they were above the 6-week entry to infant care, they were also only 4 lbs and had medical and developmental needs to address. 

For me, this was a new chapter of life that was dictated by other people’s needs, and making it work meant that I couldn’t work. Which was not something I was used to or would have chosen otherwise. After two years of the UK NICU graduate clinic, First Steps early intervention, and the HANDS program, I was finally able to put my children in care and enter back into the labor force as a working mama. I transitioned to this adjustment by starting off part-time. 

That was okay for a while, but my children needed more as they got older and I wanted to be done with using public assistance as a stepping stone.

I was also able to become a homeowner during this time and move out of public housing. But then I was faced with a new challenge: with the income I was earning, I already no longer qualified for food assistance. To accept a salaried position again that matched my degrees and qualifications, however, I would now also lose child care assistance. And, even though I would be making more money with a higher-paying job, it still wouldn’t be enough to cover the additional $800 a month I would have been expected to come up with to keep my children in care.

This put me in a difficult position where I had to consider taking the job I wanted but asking for a reduction in salary before I even began the work. Fortunately, due to various factors involved with pandemic relief funds and an increase in initial eligibility criteria for the Child Care Assistance Program, I was able to manage. 

I’m still close to the cutoff for support, though, so what happens when I am offered a raise? The worry of having the rug pulled out from under me with being able to afford child care hasn’t gone away. 

I want to work and I want to have a successful career. I’ve never been someone who is complacent with low performance. I want to set an example to my children of strong morals and character: a mother who values contributing to her community and the economy. 

But, I also need to be able to afford to do it. Not considering the impacts of the child care benefits cliff affects parents like me.