Sen. Elizabeth Warren is making universal child care one of the priorities of her 2020 presidential campaign, unveiling a plan Tuesday that would ensure every family can have access to high-quality child care, regardless of their income.
Child care in the U.S. can cost on average up to $9,500 per year, according to the New America Foundation. In fact, in 28 states, paying for one year of child care can be more expensive for families than paying for one year of college tuition. With her Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, the Massachusetts senator is proposing the creation of a federal program that would rely on partnerships with local establishments to build a network of child care providers — including locally-licensed centers, preschools, and in-home care options.
According to Warren's campaign, families with a household income 200% below the poverty level — for example, a family of four with a $51,500 annual income — would have access to free, high-quality child care. Households earning above that would pay on a sliding scale and the fee would be capped at no more than 7% of their income. "We must do better for our kids — and our parents," Warren said in a post outlining the proposal. "In the wealthiest country on the planet, access to affordable and high-quality child care and early education should be a right, not a privilege reserved for the rich."
According to the New York Times, the plan would cost the federal government an additional $70 billion on top of the current annual cost of its child care programs. But Warren says that's no issue: The plan would be paid in part through her "wealth tax," a policy proposal she released last month. This annual tax, also known as the "ultra millionaire tax," would apply to Americans whose net worth exceeds $50 million. The Warren campaign says experts project this type of taxation could bring around $2.75 trillion in new government revenue over the next decade, which would cover the cost of the child care plan "four times over," according to a video released Tuesday.
Another big, structural change we need: #UniversalChildCare. I’m proposing a bold new plan that guarantees high-quality child care and early education for every child in America. It will be free for millions of families, and affordable for everyone. pic.twitter.com/lFFZO7kwhu— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 19, 2019
Warren's proposal could set the stage for issues such as affordable child care and paid family leave — until now considered "women's issues," though they impact the entire family and its finances — to take a more prominent role in the 2020 presidential election. Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values @ Work, told Refinery29 she is excited to see this unfold. (FV@W is a non-profit organization and does not endorse political candidates.)
"We've been in an untenable dilemma: Parents can't afford the price of child care for their young children and care providers can't afford to live on the low wages that most people are paid," she said. "For kids to thrive, parents need care to be affordable and providers need their work properly valued. There's only one solution and that is recognizing the need for public investment. What we expect is that like Elizabeth Warren, many other policy makers are going to embrace the solution that is universal, affordable for all families, child care."
Bravo brought up how public education has evolved because "society saw the value" of investing into it, adding that something similar should happen in the way the nation views child care. And implementing universal child care in the U.S. would far from unprecedented: In 1971, Congress passed legislation to implement universal, federally subsidized child care — but President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill. Fast-forward nearly 50 years and it seems like finally the country will allow affordable child care to become a reality. But Bravo said the solution needs to be two-fold.
"Infant care is the most expensive and least available. Two things need to happen: We need paid family and medical leave. If something like the FAMILY Act passes, a two-parent family would have almost six months to be home with their child. That's going to help with the scarcity for infant care and its high cost," she said. "Once kids are in child care, there need to be places that are high-quality and affordable for everybody. These kind of ideas — people have been talking about them for years."
Bravo is hopeful that lawmakers will prioritize issues such as universal child care and paid family leave because they are issues that impact families at all socioeconomic levels and across the country. She said: "We know that the time has come. These policies have solutions that are universal, fiscally sound, and long overdue."