By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Only 12 people attended the first Child Advocacy Day at the state Capitol nine years ago.
On Thursday, organizers estimated that nearly 900 advocates and children attended this year’s rally, urging lawmakers to pass key pieces of legislation ranging from a statewide ban on smoking in public places to a measure that would increase penalties for human trafficking.
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, also urged attendees to talk with legislators about recently announced cuts to the state’s child care assistance and kinship care programs.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced last week that a program that helps low-income families pay for child care will be frozen in April and that income requirements will become more stringent in July. That means more than 8,700 families will likely lose child care assistance money.
The cabinet also announced that on July 1, relatives who care for children who were removed from homes because of abuse and neglect will no longer receive a $300 monthly stipend. Relatives who already receive the subsidy will continue to get it.
Brooks said lawmakers and Gov. Steve Beshear need to realize that kids are Kentucky’s best asset and start treating them like “a signature industry.”
He urged rally attendees to tell Beshear to find additional money in the budget for child care programs and to encourage the legislature to re-appropriate money withing the state’s two-year budget.
If those two options don’t work, ” we expect a special session to be called to talk about new revenue,” Brooks said.
The rally took place outside of the Capitol this year because there were too many attendees for the Capitol rotunda, where the event is typically held.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the keynote speaker, urged kids who attended Thursday’s rally to get involved in public service. Grimes is the youngest constitutional office holder and the only woman.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” Grimes said. “You have to be the change.”