The viability of the Barren River Area Child Advocacy Center, which provides support to abused children, is in jeopardy if the state Senate does not pass House Bill 8, according to Executive Director Jennifer Bryant.

If the bill doesn’t pass, she said the center will face an increase in its required state retirement system contribution from 49% to 85% as of July 1. The increase of about $241,843 in one year could be devastating for BRACAC, she said.

Bryant said House Bill 8 would provide an equitable and long-term solution for quasi-governmental agencies in Kentucky that “have shouldered the burden of Frankfort’s broken pension system by paying exorbitant rates on retirement expenses, some of which effectively double staffing costs.”

If the legislation passes, it help will prevent reduction or elimination of life-saving services and programs such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and child advocacy centers, she said.

“It’s a real threat to the sustainability of our organization,” Bryant said. “Time is short, and we need the Senate to hear this as soon as possible. This new legislation would enable us to pay our fair share of the retirement liability at 16.36% and not the liability of others. That is a huge difference.”

If the legislation fails, she said BRACAC would be forced to reduce its workforce because of the financial hit the organization would face July 1.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, BRACAC is seeing record numbers of children needing the center’s services, she said.

“Child abuse only escalated since the pandemic started,” Bryant said. “Requests for forensic interviews went up almost 92%. We currently have 20 kids on our wait list for therapy. We need more therapists and forensic interviewers – not less.”

The center serves a 10-county region and more than 800 children a year. Bryant said the option to “buy out” of the system wasn’t realistic as it would cost the center $345,448 to $622,250 to do so.

“During this time of increased isolation, it is imperative that child advocacy centers be fully funded and able to coordinate services so that children do not fall through the cracks,” Bryant said.

In coalition with other quasi-governmental agencies in Kentucky, BRACAC last week publicly announced its support of House Bill 8.

The state House of Representatives passed the bill unanimously Feb. 10. The Senate has yet to vote on the legislation.

Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, voted for what she called a great bill.

“I’ve talked with leaders at local centers and they are very much in support of it. This is a step to make sure their pension promises will be kept. The employees who serve our district deserve nothing less,” Minter said.

“House Bill 8 will allow children’s advocacy centers to continue to provide direct services to victims and families,” Children’s Advocacy Centers of Kentucky Executive Director Caroline Ruschell said in a news release. “Now is not the time to reduce critical services for children and families enduring the impact of abuse. We urge the Kentucky General Assembly to pass House Bill 8 and support the work of Kentucky’s children’s advocacy centers.”

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.