Opinion | Parents need Congress to spend more on child care – The Washington Post

One ray of hope united the parents braving the rain on the East Lawn of the Capitol with their babies and toddlers for the annual Strolling Thunder D.C. lobby day last week: Lawmakers in both parties say they want to do something about the country’s child-care crisis. But if they’re serious, they’ll need to do what’s hardest on the Hill right now: come up with a lot of money.
The child-care industry has been strained for years by the difference between what parents can afford and what providers need to make.
And disaster looms. On Sept. 30, federal covid-19 relief funding for providers ends. That experiment might have been a bridge to permanent federal investment in care. But key lawmakers balked at the price tag. Without further federal commitments, 70,000 programs might close, wiping out 3.2 million slots and $9 billion in annual parent earnings, according to a new analysis from the Century Foundation.
As tricky policy issues go, at least child care affects both red and blue states. In both Texas and New York, as many as 250,000 kids might lose access to care after Sept. 30, the foundation calculates.
Already, infant day care is unaffordable, unavailable or both. In D.C., it costs $417 per week on average. Arkansas is the least expensive state at just $128 a week, according to Care.com’s annual Cost of Care Report, but swaths of it are child-care deserts.
Parents are desperate for something to change. When the parent advocacy group MomsFirst mobilized its members to call their representatives about care costs, families reached out to lawmakers in every congressional district within 20 minutes, says founder Reshma Saujani.
Even Congress members struggle to secure precious spots. “When I found out that I was expecting my second baby, Jax, who is now 10, my first call was not to my parents, it was actually to my day care,” Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) recalled in May.
Both parties seem eager to get in on a solution. The congressional Pre-K and Child Care Caucus is co-chaired by Democrats Joaquin Castro and Suzanne Bonamici and Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick and Hinson. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) recently launched a parallel caucus focused on care affordability.
Senators across the political spectrum have advanced ambitious reforms. Republican Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) introduced legislation to expand access to the Child Care and Development Block Grant program to families making up to 150 percent of a state’s median income. The other Republicans who backed the legislation had little else in common with Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who recently released a report warning about the relief funding cutoff.
All agree that, as Murray and Sanders put it, “It’s time for this country to adequately invest in working people.” How big that investment needs to be is the sticking point.
Even some eager lawmakers don’t seem ready to spend enough. Scott left funding for the expansion in affordable child care to the appropriations process. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) doomed major new investments in early-childhood education in the Build Back Better legislation. A modest proposal from Fitzpatrick and Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier (Wash.) for parents to get tax relief to pay for care would have marginal costs — and provide marginal help.
Some lawmakers have bigger ambitions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has proposed funding a national network of child-care facilities, like the centers that allowed women to head off to assembly lines during World War II. Khanna is working on a bill to subsidize child care such that most families would pay $10 a day, but providers would make $20 per hour.
“Over the next five years this is a place where we can get substantial progress,” Khanna said. There are enough Republicans, he thinks, who know that they can’t be pro-family and then “not care about how families have the resources to raise their kids.”
Anyone who thinks they can solve the child-care crisis on the cheap should listen to Tara Hill. A child-care center director and single mom from Nevada, Hill came to D.C. last week to share her perspective at Strolling Thunder.
As a mother, she didn’t have good child-care choices. Her son attended one facility she described as “pretty awful,” and a second that was “low quality.” “I was desperate,” Hill told me. “I had to go to school, I had to go to work.”
As a center director, she hates turning down families desperate for slots and employees desperate for raises. Temporary federal funding has been helpful, Hill says, but she wants to see a more permanent solution: “Some sort of subsidy to pay teachers more, or benefits, or anything, really.”
Good child care is expensive. Refusing to invest in it is costing the nation dearly. The kids at Strolling Thunder wore T-shirts declaring they were there to “make a fuss.” Their parents are going to keep pushing.


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