Senate Dems Revive Bill to Fix Nation’s ‘Broken’ US Childcare System

Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams

Stressing “the need to rebuild a stronger, more robust, and more equitable childcare system,” progressive U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren on Thursday reintroduced a bill to improve access to quality, affordable childcare—one of multiple childcare bills unveiled in Congress in recent days.

The Building Childcare for a Better Future Act would increase mandatory childcare funding for the Childcare Entitlement to States (CCES) program by $6.45 billion to $10 billion per year and boosts the share of CCES funds that go to Native American tribes and U.S. territories. The bill would also appropriate $5 billion in annual CCES grant funding to improve the childcare “workforce, supply, quality, and access in areas of particular need.”

“Emergency funding helped many providers stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, but clearly long-term funding is urgently needed,” a summary of the proposed legislation states. “This bill addresses the childcare gap by providing new, permanent funding so that states, tribes, and territories have the critical resources they need to develop a childcare infrastructure that better serves all families.”

According to data released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, U.S. childcare costs have soared 220% since 1990 to an average of over $10,000 in 2021. That’s about 10% of a couple’s average income or 35% of a single parent’s earnings. Around 1 in 6 Black and Latino children ages 5 and under lived with a relative who had to quit, change, or turn down a job due to childcare issues in 2021, according to the report.

Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement that “the childcare system is the backbone of the American economy, allowing working parents to do their jobs and provide for their families. Yet, right now, so many families don’t have access to affordable, quality childcare and are forced to make impossible decisions.”

“America can and should do better by prioritizing investments to make childcare more available and strengthen its workforce with better pay and more training opportunities,” he added. “An investment in a more equitable childcare system is an investment in working families and the American economy. We can’t afford to wait.”

Warren (D-Mass.) asserted that “just like investments in roads, bridges, and broadband, investments in childcare are critical for families and the success of our entire economy.”

“I have long said that childcare is infrastructure and the Building Childcare for a Better Future Act will help secure a strong, long-lasting federal investment in childcare to raise wages for workers and ensure affordable and accessible childcare for all,” she added.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)—who, along with Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), co-sponsored the bill—said that “America’s economy has roared back from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we’re stymied by a broken childcare system that is keeping parents, especially moms, from joining the workforce.”

“Our Building Childcare for a Better Future Act would strengthen our nation’s childcare system by investing in permanent funding to better attract and retain top-notch early educators while lowering costs and increasing access for families,” Whitehouse added.

The revived Building Childcare for a Better Future Act was unveiled a day after the bipartisan Expanding Childcare in Rural America (ECRA) Act of 2023 was introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Smith, Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and several House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

The ECRA would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “authorize and prioritize projects that address the availability, quality, and cost of childcare in agricultural and rural communities” through an array of programs and grants.

Earlier this year, Warren and other lawmakers introduced the Childcare for Every Community Act, under which around half of U.S. families would pay no more than $10 per day on childcare. According to May polling from Data for Progress, 4 in 5 U.S. voters support the measure.

Meanwhile, state legislatures have been moving in opposite directions on the childcare issue. For example, a Democrat-sponsored bill to boost quality, affordable childcare was passed by Maine’s Senate this week, while Republicans in Ohio are seeking to strip hundreds of millions of dollars in childcare funding from the state’s new two-year budget.

Last month, Sanders and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) warned in a report that the U.S. childcare system—already among the worst and least affordable across developed nations—could be “pushed closer to the brink of collapse” if Congress does not act before most of the $24 billion in emergency federal funding under the pandemic-era Childcare Stabilization Grant runs out on September 30.

 

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