The House budget bill builds on Governor Bevin’s proposed funding for KTRS and KERS and rightly restores his cuts to P-12 and higher education. However, it maintains reductions to other budget areas, including parts of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) that serve Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.
The House budget appropriates a total of $2.5 billion in 2017 and $2.7 billion in 2018 from the General Fund (GF) to the Cabinet – just over $12 million (or 0.5 percent) more each year than the Governor proposed. $10.6 million would go to raise the eligibility threshold for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to 160 percent of the federal poverty line from 150 percent and $1.6 million to increase foster parent reimbursement rates.
Other CHFS programs that help keep at-risk Kentuckians healthy and safe – such as cancer education and prevention, Relative Placement Support (distinct from Kinship Care), domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers – have some funding identified in the House budget. But since additional dollars beyond those mentioned were not added to the Cabinet, reductions will have to be made elsewhere to meet the overall cut.
Furthermore, it is clear that some of these identified provisions do not go far enough to help Kentuckians thrive within their communities. For example, while the budget includes new slots for Medicaid waiver programs that provide people with intellectual and developmental disabilities supports to live well at home, these slots just make a dent in the wait lists for each program, and are fewer than the new slots in the last budget cycle:
- The budget adds 171 slots over the biennium for the Supports for Community Living Waiver program (SCL) which has a wait list of over 2,000 people. 440 were added in the 2015-16 budget;
- It promises 249 slots over the biennium for the Michelle P. Waiver program, which was created to relieve the SCL backlog, but now has about 5,000 Kentuckians on its own wait list. 500 slots were added in the 2015-16 budget;
- 16 slots would be added for the long-term Acquired Brain Injury Waiver, on which about 200 individuals and their families are currently waiting. 120 slots were added in the 2015-2016 budget.
Other crucial service areas that support vulnerable Kentuckians face substantial challenges under the House’s plan as well.
Outside of the $10.6 million in additional General Fund support for Child Care and inclusion of the governor’s promised raise for social workers, the Department for Community Based Services is subject to the governor’s 9 percent cuts. This agency is tasked with administering federal programs like nutritional assistance (SNAP) and energy assistance for low-income families (LIHEAP); and providing community-based juvenile services, adult protective services (help “finding food, shelter, clothing and medical treatment”), Kinship Care (financial assistance for non-parental relatives caring for children, a program that closed to new enrollees due to budget cuts in 2013 and which neither Governor Bevin’s nor the House Budget re-open) and in-home supports for children with emotional and other needs, among other services.
Also subject to the full cuts is the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities which among other things funds the community mental health centers throughout the state. Although these agencies get some help in the budget in making their pension contributions, their state funding for services has not increased since the 1990s.
Similarly, Aging and Independent Living is subject to the nine percent cuts. With our rapidly aging population, Kentucky should be investing more to ensure that seniors have the support they need to stay healthy and happy in their own homes. Instead, the budget threatens to increase the existing 13,000 person wait list for meals, transportation, and home-based and caregiver services.