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 MurrayPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding 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 ScottPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive Overnight Health Care: White House blocks CDC director from testifying before House panel | Fauci urges action on masks | Administration document says counties in 'red zone' should close bars, gyms White House blocks CDC director from testifying before House panel on reopening schools MORE (D-Va.) introduced companion legislation in the House that same day. More recently, Representative Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroCoronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding Lobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill Public health groups denounce new Trump move sidelining CDC 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 LoefflerDemocrats seek Harris boost in Senate race Andrew Clyde wins Georgia GOP runoff to replace Doug Collins Black VP politics and the case for Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer MORE (R-Ga.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOn The Money: Economists flabbergasted after Congress leaves with no deal | Markets rise as the economy struggles | Retail sales slow in July Chamber to launch ads defending embattled GOP senators The Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring 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 AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline 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 Owen McCarthyQAnon-supporting congressional candidate embraced 9/11 conspiracy theory Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP GOP leaders go into attack mode against Harris 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.