House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic

Bonnie Cash

The House passed two bills aimed at easing the financial burden for child care amid the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday.

The first, titled Child Care Is Essential Act, would provide grant money to child care providers in an effort to help the facilities reopen safely amid the coronavirus pandemic and stabilize the sector’s operations on Wednesday.

The second, called the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, includes a number of tax provisions that are aimed at making child care more affordable for families and providing assistance to child-care providers.

Both bills passed in largely party-line votes.

No Democrats voted against the measures. Eighteen Republicans voted for the first bill, and 20 Republicans voted for the second one.

The first bill, which passed 249-163, creates a Child Care Stabilization Fund and  allocates $50 billion to be used during and after the pandemic. 

The fund would be established within the Department of Health and Human Services Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, with the grants being administered by the “existing CCDBG lead agencies of states, tribes, or territories.” 

Those eligible for the grants would receive funding based on the child care providers’ operating costs ahead of the public health emergency, which would then be adjusted to account for additional costs they face due to the pandemic. 

The bill also includes language to “provide relief from copayments and tuition payments for the families” who are struggling to make payments due to the financial hardships caused by the spread of COVID-19. 

Proponents of the legislation said it is a critical step in helping struggling families and essential workers who can’t afford private childcare, arguing it underscores the impact of the class divide in the United States. 

“We have essential workers, who I pointed out, grocery workers, they’re transit workers, the sanitation people, the retail workers who clock in and out every single day and who have to be on the job and they have been told if they don’t show up they don’t get paid. But they have kids, they have families,” DeLauro said on the floor ahead of the vote.  

“What is the main responsibility of a parent? The pride you take in making sure that your children are safe, that they are secure, that you are doing all you can for them to be able to survive. So what is your choice — leave your kid by themselves?”

Critics argued that it was too costly and would create a burdensome process for those looking to apply for grants. 

“As the country navigates the ongoing reality of the coronavirus pandemic, child care is one of the most important issues we have to resolve. Congress must put child care solutions in place to help working families address their needs, but this bill before us is not the answer,” said Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Committee on Appropriation.  

“This bill would appropriate $50 billion for the child care industry, more than its entire annual revenue. Overly burdensome and complicated application requirements would accompany those funds. This means providers would spend their time on applications and reporting requirements rather than caring for the children and keeping them safe.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is leading the efforts on a companion bill in the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled chamber. 

The second measure, approved in a 250-161 vote, would expand the child and dependent care tax credit, expand flexible savings accounts for dependent care, and create a new payroll tax credit for employee dependent care benefits that employers pay. 

It also would create a new payroll tax credit for mortgage, rent and utility expenses incurred by child-care facilities that have been affected by the pandemic. And it would expand the employee retention tax credit created by legislation enacted in March to allow employers to get the credit for wages they pay to domestic workers who have been unable to work because of governmental orders.

In addition to expanding and creating tax breaks related to child care, the bill would also increase funds to the Child Care Entitlement to States program, provide $850 million to states, the District of Columbia and territories to fill in gaps for child care for essential workers, and invest $10 billion from 2020 through 2024 to improve the infrastructure of child care facilities.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) argued that the bill would be helpful both for children and the economy. She said that some child care facilities are at risk of permanently closing.

“Every single industry counts on child care. In order to save our economy, we need to save child care,” she said.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said the bill provides “unprecedented federal support for child care because we are all in this together.”

Republicans said they agreed with Democrats that access to child care is important, but criticized the bill as partisan.

“This is no more than a copy-paste of various Democratic child-care proposals, superficially edited to link to the pandemic, “ said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.).

Tags Child care Coronavirus COVID-19 Kay Granger Nita Lowey Patty Murray Richard Neal Tom Reed
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