Will Congress provide relief to the ailing child care sector?
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 Murray (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 Scott (D-Va.) introduced companion
Republican members have been providing leadership on this issue as well. Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and Joni Ernst (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 Alexander (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 McCarthy (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.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.