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Will Congress provide relief to the ailing child care sector?

Will Congress provide relief to the ailing child care sector?
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On May 21, 2020, we wrote in this space on the lifeline of a Child Care Stabilization Fund that the House of Representatives nearly extended to the child care sector as it finalized the HEROES Act. For the first time in recent memory, meaningful investment into an industry so vital to facilitating a robust economic recovery was within reach. Yet, at the last instant, the provision vanished from the bill, and the opportunity was lost. 

But not for long. As with all things in the COVID-19-era, just eight weeks later, the landscape is quickly evolving. With the drumbeat of child care being pounded by House and Senate members in both parties, Congress is once again on the cusp of addressing this need for the country.

As the nation implements a phased reopening of the economy, the need for a stable child care sector has become increasingly apparent, and both parties are echoing the call for congressional action. In February of 2019, a full year before COVID-19 impacting the sector, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Senator Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHawley pens op-ed to defend decision to object to electoral votes amid pushback Demolition at the Labor Department, too Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure MORE (D-Wash.) re-introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would establish a cap on the amount families would have to contribute to cover high-quality child care, thereby increasing access for many families who have been priced out of the market. House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottDemocrats reintroduce minimum wage bill DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair National reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge MORE (D-Va.) introduced companion legislation in the House that same day. More recently, Representative Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroCapitol Police chief apologizes, admits to department's failures in riot House Republicans vow not to support spending bills that repeal Hyde Amendment Democrats eye bill providing permanent benefits of at least K per child MORE (D-Conn.) and Senator Murray introduced the Child Care is Essential Act in their respective chambers establishing the very Child Care Stabilization Fund advocates have desperately been urging Congress to create. 

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Republican members have been providing leadership on this issue as well. Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerState-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era MORE (R-Ga.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate GOP boxes itself in on impeachment Senate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time Just five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional MORE (R-Iowa) introduced a resolution calling for the next COVID-19 relief package to include $25 billion in support for the child care industry. On July 14, 2020, with the support of HELP Committee Chair Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), Sen. Ernst introduced the Back to Work Child Care Grants Act, which will provide up to nine months of financial assistance to child care providers, supplementing Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG). Earlier this month Representative Waloriski (R-Ind.) introduced the Working Families Child Care Access Act, legislation that would allow parents to contribute up to $15,000 per year to a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) — pretax income that is set aside and can be explicitly used for child care purposes.

And on July 7, 2020, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress McCarthy to meet with Trump in Florida Video shows Rep. Greene calling Parkland shooting survivor a 'coward' MORE (R-Calif.) authored an op-ed that not only highlighted the disproportionate impact COVID-19 was having on the industry but advocated for targeted congressional support for providers, including support beyond addressing the needs exacerbated by the pandemic — recruitment, retention, and professional development of the early childhood education workforce. Despite the enormity of problems Congress is attempting to address in its next COVID relief package, the House Republican Leader writes, “But we cannot let our focus on the present distract us from preventing a child care crisis that will keep our students from returning to the classroom and their parents from returning to their workplace.” Compelling words from one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington.

The momentum is palpable. This time, even more voices from both sides of the aisle have stepped forward as the childcare sector edges closer to collapse. Constituents of every political stripe are confronting this question: how can they return to work if their children have no place to learn and be cared for? This time, their representatives are listening. With just weeks before the August recess, we ask once more: will the lifeline to child care providers finally be extended?

Mark Reilly is the vice president of Policy & Government Relations, and Brittany Walsh is the director of Policy & Government Relations of Jumpstart, a national early education nonprofit organization.