October 23, 2013; Lexington Herald-Leader


Sometimes being poor just isn’t enough. Earlier this week, the NPQ Newswire pointed out that in many states, the guidelines for qualifying for Medicaid often set the bar much below the federal poverty level. Families with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level—$22,550 for a family of four—make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In fact, across the states, the median level of Medicaid eligibility is 47 percent of the federal poverty level.

In many states, being poor doesn’t get a household child-care assistance, either. Drawing on the findings of a report by the National Women’s Law Center, the Herald-Leader’s Beth Musgrave writes that Kentucky has the nation’s most restrictive income guidelines for its child-care assistance for working families. Many states cut back on child-care assistance during the worst of the recession, but are now beginning to restore funding, but not Kentucky. In fact, the Bluegrass State has even stopped accepting new applications.

The child-care assistance program is meant to help working families keep working, rather than go on public assistance, so the income levels are higher than Medicaid, for example. When Kentucky froze new applications, it also cut the income eligibility threshold from 130 percent ($33,075 for a family of four) to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

To make the program even less functional, Kentucky also doesn’t pay much to the child-care providers in the program. According to the report, it pays only 20 percent of the recommended federal reimbursement rate and has frozen applications from new child-care providers (joined in that freeze by neighboring Tennessee). As a result of the freezes on family applicants and child-care assistance providers, organizations such as the Community Action Council have been affected. The Council has closed two of its child-care centers, among the 91 child care centers that have closed statewide, though it cannot be said that all of them closed because of the program cuts. Now, the CAC serves only 164 children, compared to the 248 it formerly did.

“The whole intent of child-care assistance is to make it easier for people to work,” according to Malcolm Ratchford, the executive director of the Community Action Council. “This does not help working people.”

Shouldn’t programs that are to keep people in jobs be maintained and strengthened, not cut? Shouldn’t someone tell Kentucky that removing the supports for low-income working families to stay in their jobs leads to people trading paychecks for public assistance checks?—Rick Cohen