A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky child care providers face an uncertain future as federal financial assistance runs out

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

New federal data show child care expenses are out of reach for most families, and in Kentucky, providers are struggling to keep their doors open.

Many say without federal financial assistance, they will have to curb operations or shut their doors entirely.

Kathy Donelan, owner of Aunt Kathy’s Child Care and Preschool in Campbellsville, said her business received American Rescue Plan funding to increase employee wages, but the money is running out, and she is unable to maintain the same rate of pay without hiking tuition.

Child care prices for a single child ranged from $4,810 for school-age home-based care in small counties, to $15,417 for infant center-based care in very large counties, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. (NKyTribune file)

“It’s going to be a little shocking, I think, when we don’t get that money anymore,” Donelan explained. “When I go to meet payroll, I mean, I’ll make payroll, but then maybe I won’t be able to pay the mortgage or I won’t be able to pay the electricity bill, things like that.”

According to Kentucky Youth Advocates, the median pay for child care workers in Kentucky was around $12 an hour in 2022.

Statewide, the average child care cost for toddlers in 2021 was around $7,000 per year, more than a quarter of a single mom’s income.

Ashley Brandt, director of early care and education for Metro United Way in Louisville, said last year Kentucky lawmakers convened an Early Childhood Education Task Force to tackle the issue, and also passed House Bill 499, which created a statewide employer-based childcare assistance program.

“Where if an employer creates a benefit internally for their employees, that they’ll provide, say, $200 a month that that employee can use for childcare expenses, the state then matches that amount,” Brandt outlined.

Donelan pointed out even sporadic disruptions in child care impact families in rural regions, who often do not have back-up childcare options.

“What are the parents going to do if we say I’m sorry, we can’t take your child on Tuesday, because we don’t have enough people to cover the ratio?” Donelan asked. “I just think that would be devastating for a parent to realize, like they’ve had childcare and then all of a sudden, they don’t have it on a specific day.”

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found between 2020 and 2021, 12% of Kentucky children under age 6 lived in families in which someone quit, changed, or refused a job because of problems with child care.

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