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Child care advocates press Congress to help families cope with costs

Providers, advocates and parents called on Congress on Thursday to help families who are struggling to pay for rising child care costs, arguing the federal government should play a bigger role in providing support.

Witnesses who testified before a House Education and Labor subcommittee told lawmakers that child care costs are eating up large portions of family income, often making it harder to make ends meet.

Taryn Morrissey, associate professor of public policy at American University, said families living below the poverty line often spend roughly 30 percent of their income on child care, while higher income families usually spend anywhere between 8 percent and 18 percent.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends out-of-pocket childcare costs should not exceed 7 percent of household income.

“More public investment is needed to help ease the cost burden for families across the income spectrum and ensure that a trained stable workforce has adequate compensation,” Morrissey told lawmakers.

Most child care funding from the federal government comes in the form of block grants and the child and dependent care tax credit, which allows parents to deduct $3,000 of child care costs for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.

Morrissey argued that those approaches leave significant gaps. About 15 percent of eligible children receive childcare, according to recent studies.

“What the system needs is federal investment,” Morrissey told The Hill after the hearing. “States are doing what they can but they simply don’t have the money, so it’s creating this patchwork.”

She and other witnesses voiced support for legislation sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. Scott’s bill, the Child Care for Working Families Act, would aim to ensure that no low- to moderate-income family spends more than 7 percent of their household income on child care.

The bill would provide cost-sharing between the federal government and states to provide child care from birth through age 13 and double the number of children eligible for child care assistance.

The measure has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

“Our bill will be expensive but it is a need for everybody,” Scott said in a brief interview Thursday.

Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, argued that Congress needs to do a comprehensive analysis of the child care system before spending more taxpayer dollars.

“Overlap, duplication and fragmentation among programs remains an issue and demands a thoughtful and complete examination from Congress, rather than the piecemeal approach taken in years past or simply throwing more money at a convoluted system without addressing the underlying issues,” Allen said.

Scott’s bill has one Republican among its 173 cosponsors. The measure has not been marked up by the committee.

Tags Bobby Scott Child care Rick Allen
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