Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Needy parents on long waiting list for state child-care benefits

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Limited funds have forced state officials to place poor, working parents, and some who are in school, on a waiting list for child-care help.

Since May 1, more than 2,700 applicants have been added to the waiting list, and officials have no idea when they will be able to serve them.

The state is helping pay for care for about 58,000 children. As a result, applicants - mostly poor, single mothers - are being forced to quit jobs or drop out of school and some will wind up back on the welfare rolls, said state officials and advocates who work with the poor.

"It is one of the saddest decisions we've had to make since I've been in this business," said Viola Miller, secretary of the Cabinet for Families and Children, which administers the program. "It is purely a financial decision. We looked at every alternative."

The waiting list applies to all applicants except those on welfare who must work to get benefits, and parents involved with the child protective system and who are required to attend classes or therapy.

State Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, said he's aware of the child-care assistance problem and said it's just one example of the bare-bones budget the legislature approved this year.

"In 2004, we've got to deal with what we're going to do as a society in terms of our human services budget," said Lee, chairman of a human services budget subcommittee. "The dollars are just not there."

Because of the state's fiscal crisis, lawmakers passed a budget that provided few additional funds in the 2003 session to human service programs.

Legislators added $5 million to make up for the projected shortfall in child-care assistance, but that hasn't been enough to keep up with demand, Lee said.

Kentucky is not the only state to come up short in the program, which gets 70 percent of its funding from the federal government.

A May 2003 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office found 25 states are not able to serve all families who apply. And 23 of the states, including Kentucky, have made changes in the last two years restricting the program, the report found.

Miller said state officials don't know when the state can begin serving those on the waiting list. Without additional funds, the state must wait for clients to drop off, freeing slots for those waiting.

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