U.S. Rep. James Comer made another stop Thursday in Paducah and toured Easterseals West Kentucky's Child Development Center, getting a closer look at how young children benefit from its services.

During the visit Comer met with a group of 3- and 4-year-olds, who presented him with a handmade "thank you" card before CDC director Kristie Dover guided him through different areas in the center, such as the sensory room, that help serve approximately 130 children. He peered into different classrooms and greeted staff members and toddlers throughout the building.

"Are you a Cincinnati Reds fan?" Comer joked with a boy wearing a St. Louis Cardinals shirt.

He later sat down for a roundtable discussion at Easterseals that covered a range of child-care issues, focusing on the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, as well as the Child Care Assistance Program -- a subsidy that assists low-income families in accessing quality child care. Kentucky received an additional $42 million through CCDBG funding in 2018, which helped allow 65% of child care centers to overcome the risk of closure, said Kentucky Youth Advocates policy principal Benjamin Gies.

Gies explained the House of Representatives recently allocated an additional $2.4 billion in CCDBG funding, and he wants to serve as a "bridge" between Kentucky and Washington, D.C., to showcase the gains made for child care in 2018, before the bill heads to the Senate.

Meanwhile, Dover addressed Comer about work that Easterseals does.

"My passion, of course, is early childhood," she said. "That's why I'm here. I think people are starting to realize how important early childhood is, how important those first five years are. It's the foundation to everything."

One of the biggest issues for Easterseals is staffing and it has a hard time finding "quality" staff, she said, as it can't pay what the school system can pay, and people may be reluctant to go into the career field.

The roundtable also included an emotional testimony from Paducah resident Allison Harned, grandmother of 2-year-old Ryker, who benefits from the Child Care Assistance Program. She said Easterseals provides an environment for him to learn, and he wouldn't have been able to go there without CCAP.

"We have been here since Ryker was 5½ months old, so we've been here long-term and have seen from an infant level all the way to a toddler standpoint -- at the very pivotal times -- that he is starting to learn," she told Comer. "We had some delays in the very beginning and when he came here, they worked with us."

Afterward, Comer posed for photographs with Easterseals staff members and said he was "very impressed" with the facility, explaining that he had wanted to learn more about CCAP. He thinks too many government programs punish people who try to work and do "everything right."

"We've got to realize that it takes a bridge to get people from poverty into the workforce, especially if they have children," Comer told The Sun. "We want to do everything we can in Washington to see that there's a subsidy there to help encourage people with children to get into the workforce."

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