Business & Lobbying

Child care advocates seek to lock down $25 billion in new federal funding

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Early childhood education advocates successfully secured billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief and now are lobbying for child care to stay in the final infrastructure package after President Biden included funding for the industry in his proposal.

One of the groups leading the charge is the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), a small nonprofit that got the attention of Congress and both Presidents Trump and Biden. 

“Just because we are early childhood advocates doesn’t mean we can’t get out there and try to fight along the biggest, most high-powered corporations out there,” said Sarah Rittling, executive director of FFYF.

Child care has received $54 billion since the start of the pandemic. Biden’s American Rescue Plan allotted $39 billion, which included $15 billion for a grant program and $24 billion for a child care stabilization fund. Congress provided the other $15 billion in previous relief packages.

The president’s infrastructure proposal includes a Child Care Growth and Innovation Fund, which would provide $25 billion for constructing and renovating child care facilities.

But with congressional Republicans slamming Biden’s broad definition of infrastructure, going far beyond roads and bridges, FFYF is now fighting to ensure that $25 billion finds its way into the final legislation. 

“The president’s put out something that is within the definition of what he sees as infrastructure,” Rittling said. “You can’t do anything if children don’t have somewhere that is of quality for them to go if parents are to go to work. To have a jobs infrastructure proposal out there without addressing some of those realities — I think it’s safe to have that conversation.”

Biden’s proposal would provide a tax credit to businesses to build facilities in their workplaces, up to 50 percent of $1 million in construction costs.

FFYF’s lobbying strategy includes leveraging its communications and advocacy efforts to find new partners in Congress.

“The benefit, obviously, is that we have strong support in Congress for this issue…What we’ve been saying for quite a while is, the issues existed prior to the pandemic, which are, very simply stated, there is not enough quality care for children. The care that exists is extremely expensive for families, those that provide care are undervalued in terms of their compensation, and that we just need to do more,” Rittling said.

“Over the course of the past year, what we’ve seen is there is support to do that across the aisle,” she added.

Many of those supporters, FFYF said, are female lawmakers.

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the assistant Speaker, was the first member of Congress to call for stabilization funding of the child care industry in March 2020 when the pandemic hit the U.S. Now she’s supporting child care as an infrastructure component.

“Child care is essential infrastructure. While this has always been true, the industry has long been undervalued and unfunded. The economic fallout from the pandemic has brought a new understanding of the value of child care, and now we must improve the safety of our facilities, support the financial well-being of early educators, and expand access to every family,” Clark told The Hill.

“The First Five Years Fund has been an incredible partner in this fight, and I know that together we will make quality, affordable child care a reality for every family.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), another outspoken supporter, said access to affordable child care was a challenge in Iowa even before the pandemic.

“The folks at First Five Years Fund have been there to support me and my staff by providing up-to-date information about the ongoing struggles that our working families face in finding quality, affordable childcare as well as the challenges within the industry,” the senator said.

Rittling said that the past year, when the majority of Americans were working from home, put a national focus on the challenges of child care. And that concern resonated with lawmakers and congressional staff.

“There were others who were saying, ‘Jeez, this is a big deal.’ And if we’re ever going to get back to normal or any sense of the new normal, we need to have this addressed,” she said.

Tags Child care Infrastructure Joe Biden Joni Ernst Katherine Clark Lobbying Pandemic

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