.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington speaks at a press conference on child care funding outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (Samantha Dietel/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday to extend funding for five years for a pandemic-era child care subsidy program set to expire at the end of the month.
The legislation would extend the child care stabilization grant program, which Congress established in 2021 to help child care providers meet additional costs during the pandemic. The bill would provide $16 billion in mandatory funding each year for the next five years.
Congress initially provided $24 billion for the program as part of Democrats’ massive COVID-19 relief bill in 2021.
Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined by congressional colleagues, child care providers and advocates, called on Congress to act before this “lifeline” is cut off Sept. 30, noting its economy-wide impact.
“When I say we need to act more urgently before things get worse — I don’t just mean parents are going to feel the pain, or child care workers are going to feel the pain,” Murray said. “I mean, the entire U.S. economy is going to feel this.”
If this child care funding ends, child care providers may raise costs or not be able to continue serving families, Murray said, and parents may also be forced to leave their jobs to take care of their kids.
Too many people are forced to choose between their careers and caring for their children, said Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
The bill attracted 35 co-sponsors in the Senate and 78 in the House. All the co-sponsors are Democrats except U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the party.
“Over 3 million kids will be in danger of losing quality child care they have today” if Congress does not take action, said Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Over 230,000 child care workers will be in danger of losing their jobs, and over 70,000 child care facilities all over America will likely be shut down.”
Sanders said the country’s workforce crisis would only be worsened if child care relief is cut off.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said about 80,000 children could lose child care spots in Virginia, while nearly 2,800 early childhood education workers could see layoffs.
“We know if child care is accessible and it’s affordable, parents and our children survive,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the leading Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “So we need to keep up those investments to help parents. That is what our obligation is in this time of difficulty and struggling for people in the economy.”
Without a strong child care industry, the economy will “cease to function,” DeLauro said.
Cynthia Davis, the founder and CEO of Kings and Queens Childcare Center in Washington, D.C., spoke at the press conference to explain how her business could be affected by a loss of funding.
Davis said that if relief runs out at the end of the month, her business could see layoffs, increased rates or have to “drop out of the public child care program and start serving private families only.” Or her doors could close permanently, she said.
“This will devastate low-income and single-parent households and parents experiencing homelessness who hope to enroll their children in my program,” Davis said. “All children, no matter their family’s income level, deserve an equal chance at the start of their lives.”
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey, recalled her experiences as a mother searching for affordable child care for her now-17-year-old daughter.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Sherrill said. “That horrible feeling as I tried to find a place that I was comfortable leaving my baby girl and also could afford. And there were times when I paid my entire paycheck towards affording that quality child care.”
This is an issue that disproportionately affects women, said U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat.
U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a New York Democrat and former middle school principal, said it is important to recognize the impact of quality child care on the individual lives of children. Without access to quality child care, he said, “children are more likely to be exposed to toxic stress and chronic trauma,” which can affect their brain development.
A disproportionate number of children with trauma are then placed in special education classes, as well as “being caught up in something we call the school-to-prison pipeline,” Bowman said.
“We do not and will not have a healthy democracy, a healthy society, and a healthy human race without investing in child care,” Bowman said.
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