Kentucky Families Face Tough Choices if Child Care Funding Doesn’t Come Through

Kentucky parents report delaying health care, purchases, even having more children to afford child care.

Courtney Rhoades Mullins is expecting twins and worries how she will keep working after they’re born without child care. (Kentucky Lantern)

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Courtney Rhoades Mullins faces a difficult predicament: the Eastern Kentucky woman is expecting twins in May but doesn’t know if she can find child care for them any time soon.

One location, she said, might have openings in April of 2025. Another could take the twins — when they are 3 years old.

That “leaves the question of what do you do until they’re 3?” Rhoades Mullins said Wednesday. “We’re looking at possibly a year to three years before having any type of child care or day care available to them.”

She joined other parents on a call with media organized by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, which has released a new survey of 1,357 parents from 88 counties revealing the challenges facing Kentucky families who need child care.

The survey results show:

  • Among private-pay families who do not participate in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), 30% spend $100 to $200 per week on child care; 30% are spending $200 to $300 per week; 28% are spending $400 or more per week for child care.
  • 67% of parents had reduced non-essential spending in favor of affording child care.
  • 54% of parents have delayed major purchases to afford child care.
  • 34% of parents reduced essential spending to afford child care.
  • 32% of parents used emergency savings to afford child care.
  • 24% of those surveyed delayed their health care needs in favor of child care.
  • 20% of those surveyed delayed having children because of the price of child care. And more.

Kentucky’s child care industry — which some are working to rebrand under an “early childhood education” umbrella — is counting on a financial boost from the 2024 legislative session as federal COVID-19 dollars that helped stabilize the industry during the last few years are running out. This leaves many centers to cut pay for their workers, raise tuition for parents, cut services and even close.

Without help from the General Assembly, Kentucky could lose more than a fifth of its child care providers, the Lantern has reported. Industry experts have said neither the Senate nor the House budget proposals adequately address the problem, nor does Gov. Andy Beshear’s proposal.

Without adequate child care, families cannot reliably go to work and contribute to the overall economy. Wednesday’s survey revealed 12% of parents who responded had already quit work to stay home.

Situation is ‘not fair’

For Rhoades Mullins, being forced to stay home is “not fair” but “it’s also not an option for my family.”

Her husband is a public school teacher, she said, and she works for a Letcher County nonprofit, which currently provides her family’s medical insurance.

“The loss of an income would not be able to be sustained in our household,” she said.  “We really are having to have difficult conversations and make difficult choices  as we try to … celebrate the opportunity of having these twins here with us soon but at the same time (wondering) ‘how do I go back to work when my maternity leave ends?’”

Dustin Pugel

Dustin Pugel, policy director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said about 65% of mothers of young children are in the workforce, a number that jumps to 95% for fathers of young children. 

“The reality is that a lot of mothers are involuntarily staying home because they can’t find or afford child care nearby,” he said. “A constant conversation we hear in Frankfort right now is that we need to get more people working. This seems like a situation where you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want to get people into the workforce, the primary group of prime age folks who are not in the workforce are moms and particularly moms of young kids.”

Rhoades Mullins lives and works in an area trying to recover from deadly back-to-back floods. She still sees a significant “lack of resources in this area” to recover from the disasters.

“You talk a lot about the need for economic development, but until there is a robust system of child care, we’re not going to see any change in our community,” she said. “Until the state decides to provide sufficient funding for these opportunities, you cannot expect Eastern Kentucky or our state to grow and to thrive economically.”

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: info@kentuckylantern.com. Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter.

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