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KY Youth Advocates speaks out on budget bills

Forward Kentucky
Forward Kentucky

A statement from Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates:

In Kentucky, we are used to arguing about dollars and cents in budgets that are restrictive, limited, and far too scarce – and that is tough work. This year, we are learning that arguing about dollars and cents in a budget that has unprecedented one-time federal dollars is also tough work.

The needs of Kentucky’s kids simply must transcend that arguing and our leaders must craft a state budget that prioritizes immediate needs and upstream solutions.

There is much to praise in both the House and the Governor’s budget proposals. While those value documents have their differences, there are also common commitments that shine through the political rhetoric of division. And I am confident that the Senate will only deepen those common commitments in their version of this biennial fiscal exercise.

As we look at taking these initial proposals to a summative document, these priorities can and should remain in a consensus budget for Kentucky’s kids:

  • Increased per-pupil SEEK funding and continued funding for full day kindergarten as an investment in our youngest Kentuckians’ futures.
  • Increased funding for Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (FRYSCs), who work with families to remove barriers to student learning and have been a critical lifeline throughout the pandemic.
  • Increased investment in the Department for Community Based Services workforce, which is a commitment to the outcomes of the most vulnerable children and families and state workers who face critical decisions about the lives of these children.
  • Increased funding for domestic violence shelters and Children’s Advocacy Centers, both of which provide vital services to survivors of abuse.
  • Sustained funding for the HANDS in-home visiting program to ensure this service is available to and utilized by new parents across Kentucky.

I also want to encourage state leaders to have a balance of creativity and pragmatism as budget deliberations continue.

First, let’s talk creativity when it comes to using those one-time dollars – not for long-term expenses but with an entrepreneurial spirit as “venture capital.” When we hear discussions of tax reform, we hope legislators see a major opportunity to boost the pocketbooks of Kentucky’s children and families.

As an example, all would agree that childhood poverty is a critical crisis to address. That is especially true for kids in our six poorest counties – all in eastern Kentucky – and for Black children who live in Fayette and Jefferson Counties, in which both populations live with a poverty rate of over 40% as compared to 21% for the rest of Kentucky. There are proven ways to change that economic landscape but those solutions do require an initial venture capital investment. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has been shown to be a targeted lever to tackle poverty among our lowest wage earners. A state refundable EITC would immediately help families make ends meet, boost local economies, and actually bolster the state budget in the long-term – but the question has always been, how do we jump start it? Kentucky can jump start it right now with these federal dollars.

Kentucky kids and families also need pragmatism. In addition to the priorities mentioned above, the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children provides decision makers with a pragmatic checklist for a kid-focused state budget.

  • The earlier we invest in our kids, the better the return. Access to child care is essential to a functioning economy, but we saw little in either budget proposal to invest in care for our infants and toddlers. Kentucky can support the needs of our babies and early learners and their parents by boosting access to affordable, high-quality child care to allow parents to work and children to thrive, and improving access to preschool.
  • Kentucky can expand investment in child abuse forensic services, including Pediatric Forensic Medicine at Kentucky’s medical schools, so all children who experience maltreatment can receive the best care and their case can be investigated.
  • During this time of heightened social and emotional needs, schools, healthcare providers, and other entities interacting with children and families must elevate efforts to identify signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. Kentucky can increase funding for school-based health providers and access to school based behavioral health services.
  • Kentucky can boost investments in tobacco use prevention and cessation programming to curb use among youth and pregnant women.
  • Kentucky can increase Medicaid funding to support health coverage for mothers up to 12 months postpartum and investments in Medicaid and KCHIP to close the remaining gap in health coverage for Latino children.

This is a rare moment for Kentucky’s kids. It is time for venture capital to be creativity applied on behalf of kids and their families, and it is a time for pragmatism as families face some of the greatest hurdles. Kentucky’s over one million kids are counting on the House, Senate, and Governor to prioritize them as the budget process advances in Frankfort.

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