Today, I laid out a comprehensive policy to help all American working families pay for high quality child care – click here to watch my video announcement. I will push for a federal guarantee of help with paying for child care for families earning below $40,000 a year; a sliding scale of assistance for families with incomes above that; greater tax help for middle income families, and strong incentives for states to improve the quality of early education, provider training, and to expand access for all children. Today, I also met with Google, a company that has been in the news after struggling with child care costs.
There is a crisis in child care today. It is time to be bold. It’s not only poor families that struggle with the cost of child care, but middle class families too. Paying for child care is a major burden on family incomes across the board. The current patchwork of complex rules and inadequate assistance fails working families. We must revamp the system entirely, and meaningfully strengthen the federal share.
At the high schools I founded and served as Superintendent of, we provided day care reimbursements for our young mothers so they could continue to attend classes. Thousands of Colorado women drop out of school because of the lack of affordable quality childcare.
Only one out of seven children who are entitled to child care help in America receives it, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy. Only the poorest families get some help with minimal federal subsidies. Thanks to neglect by Congress and Bush, more than 300,000 children will lose what little assistance they now receive by 2010.
We hear a lot of lip service about ‘helping working families’ from politicians. But what have the Democrats in Congress and in our state legislatures been doing all these years? Helping working families pay for and get access to good child care should be a top national priority. We should be making major investments in the education and character of our children, and in our families’ economic security. When I get to Washington, I am going to make it my mission to help working families do much better on this urgent problem. It should be a right of all children and families, regardless of income or where they live in America, to have access to affordable, high quality child care.
My national child care plan calls for Congress to:
Make the federal Dependent Care Tax Credit refundable, and expand that credit for families using it towards accredited, high quality child development care. The current tax credit is too small in comparison with the rising costs of child care.
Replace the current block grant program with a federal guarantee for all families with incomes under $40,000 that need child care to enter or keep employment, and a sliding scale of support for middle-income families above that in partnership with local communities.
Provide real funding incentives to states to raise the educational qualifications and compensation of child care workers, and to develop a strong supply of high quality early care and educational systems.
A national child care policy will help more parents enter and remain in the workforce, reduce poverty, increase disposable incomes, and will result in more children entering school ready to learn.
Cost: Low-income families receive almost no help with paying for child care today, and many go into debt paying for it. Millions of single mothers who pay for child care spend more than half or more of their income on it. Helping families with the cost of child care would strengthen all working family household incomes immediately.
Supply: There are far too few choices for enriching child care environments for American parents today. Millions of children languish on waiting lists for good child care. Significant federal funds must be committed in order to encourage states to ensure adequate supply of full-day, year-round child care, including Head Start, pre-K and Early Head Start, from birth to age 5.
Quality: We can improve the educational quality of child care by supporting greatly increased funding for training and professional development. Most home and center-based child care workers are paid on average only a state’s minimum wage, or about $14,000 annually. We must improve compensation for child care workers, and get them health care and benefits. That in itself will go far to improve the quality of child care in America. America’s labor movement has an important role to play in creating national comprehensive child care.
Work: The federal government should be helping parents go to work. If we help parents meet the costs of child care, they are more likely to keep or seek employment. Help with the cost of child care will increase employment; increase working families disposable incomes; and raise millions out of poverty, as the Urban Institute has shown.
Benefits: Children benefit enormously from high quality early education. When they receive good care, they arrive at school more ready to learn, doing better in math, language and socialization. Science has shown that the most essential brain growth occurs in the first three years of life.
A comparable plan proposed by Mark Greenberg of the Center for American Progress estimates that tax credit expansions would cost $5 billion annually, and subsidy and quality expansions would cost about $18 billion. By ending the war in Iraq quickly and rolling back the worst provisions of the Bush 2001 tax cuts, our country can more than afford these needed investments in children and families’ well-being.
The last time we saw universal, comprehensive child care legislation proposed in Congress was in 1971. Nixon vetoed that. Since then, Congress has been content to tinker around the edges of this problem. I will not be. Western European societies have all figured this out. We can, too.