A statement from Dr. Terry Brooks, Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates:
In Kentucky, we are used to discussing dollars and cents in tight, limited, and far too scarce budgets — and it’s hard work. This year, we’re learning that arguing about dollars and cents in a budget with unprecedented one-time federal funds is also hard work.
The needs of Kentucky’s children must simply transcend these arguments, 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 Governor’s budget proposals. While these valuable documents have their differences, there are also common commitments that shine through in the division’s political rhetoric. And I am confident that the Senate will only deepen these shared commitments in its version of this biennium budget exercise.
As we plan to turn these initial proposals into a summative document, these priorities can and should remain in a consensus budget for the children of Kentucky:
- Increased per-pupil SEEK funding and continued funding for full-day kindergarten as an investment in the future of our youngest Kentuckians.
- Increased funding for Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (FRYSC), which work with families to remove barriers to student learning and have been an essential lifeline throughout the pandemic.
- Increased investment in the Department of Community Services workforce, which is a commitment to outcomes for the most vulnerable children and families and public servants who face critical decisions about the lives of these children .
- Increased funding for domestic violence shelters and child advocacy centers, both of which provide vital services to victims of violence.
- Sustained funding for the HANDS Home Visiting Program to ensure this service is available and utilized by new parents throughout Kentucky.
I also want to encourage Heads of State to balance creativity and pragmatism as budget deliberations continue.
First, let’s talk about creativity when it comes to using those one-time dollars – not for long-term spending, but with an entrepreneurial spirit as “venture capital”. As we hear discussions about tax reform, we hope lawmakers see a major opportunity to increase the wallets of Kentucky’s children and families.
For example, everyone would agree that child poverty is a critical crisis that needs to be addressed. This is especially true for children 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 poverty rates more than 40% against 21% for the rest. from Kentucky. There are proven ways to change this economic landscape, but these solutions require an upfront investment in risk capital. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has proven to be a targeted lever to tackle poverty among our lowest earners. A state-reimbursable EITC would immediately help families make ends meet, boost local economies, and bolster the state budget in the long run – but the question has always been how to kick-start it? Kentucky can get started right away with those federal dollars.
Children and families in Kentucky also need pragmatism. In addition to the priorities mentioned above, Kentucky’s Blueprint for Children provides policymakers with a pragmatic checklist for a child-focused state budget.
- The earlier we invest in our children, the better the return. Access to child care is essential to the proper functioning of the economy, but we have not seen much in either of the budget proposals to invest in the care of our infants and of our toddlers. Kentucky can meet the needs of our infants and young learners and their parents by improving access to affordable, high-quality child care to enable parents to work and children to thrive, and improving access to pre-school education.
- Kentucky can increase its investments in child abuse forensic services, including pediatric forensics in Kentucky medical schools, so that all child abuse victims can receive the best care and their cases can be investigated.
- During this time of heightened social and emotional needs, schools, health care providers, and other entities that interact with children and families must redouble their efforts to identify signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. Kentucky can increase funding for school-based health care providers and access to school-based behavioral health services.
- Kentucky can increase investments in smoking prevention and cessation programs to reduce 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 children in Kentucky. It’s time for venture capital to be applied creativity on behalf of children and their families, and it’s time for pragmatism as families face some of the greatest hurdles. More than one million Kentucky children are counting on the House, Senate and Governor to put them first as the budget process moves forward in Frankfort.
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