Sens. Patty Murray, Bob Casey, and Mazie Hirono re-introduced the Child Care For Working Families Act on Tuesday, a landmark legislation that would make high-quality child care more affordable and increase early education services for families across the U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan introduced a companion bill in the House.
"All around the country, parents are struggling to find and afford high-quality child care, and some are even being forced to work fewer hours or not work at all so they can take care of their children," Murray said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "I know we can do better—that is why I’m proud to reintroduce the Child Care for Working Families Act today to ensure every working family has access to high-quality, affordable child care, and that our child care educators are paid what they deserve. This is not only the right thing to do for working families, but it’s a smart investment in our children, our future, and our economy."
Child care can cost on average up to $9,500 per year, in the U.S. according to the New America Foundation. In fact, in 28 states, paying for one year of child care costs more than paying for one year of college tuition. The exorbitant costs can also severely impact parents' careers: A report by the left-leaning Center For American Progress found that in 2016 alone about two million parents of children aged 5 or under had to "quit a job, not take a job, or greatly change their job" because of issues finding adequate child care for their kids. Parents who are students are among the most affected because of the lack of child care on college campuses in the U.S. — research shows they take on about 25% more on student debt and drop out at a higher rate than students who have no children.
The Child Care For Working Families Act's main goal is to make sure that families who make less than 150% of their state's median income do not spend more than 7% of their household income on child care — and those under 75% of their state's median income would have access to free services. Additionally, the bill creates an universal pre-school programs from children aged 3 and 4, provides support to members of the child care workforce by improving compensation and training, encourages providers to establish inclusive services that cater to children with disabilities, among other goals.
Marissa Martino Golden, professor of political science and child family studies at Bryn Mawr College, believes the bill's emphasis on high-quality childcare could be a game changer for working families. "After welfare reform [in the 1990s], there were lots of low-income women who were eager to enter the workforce or return to the workplace but had young children. The biggest obstacle for them was the lack of accessibility to child care," Golden said. "That forced them to use either lower-quality care providers or child care that was not reliable. If child care was not available one day, [these women] would likely be fired from their jobs. This legislation addresses that."
She added that the idea of properly compensating trained providers could offer a boost to these centers and address the issue of child care deserts — rural and urban areas where there's no affordable services nearby. And by putting the burden on high-earning taxpayers instead of employers, the legislation is more likely to be accepted by the business community. But of course, there are still roadblocks.
"The two biggest hurdles [to affordable child care] is that as a culture and a society we remain somewhat ambivalent about working mothers. We are ambivalent about putting young children into child care situations. People have not seen it as a political issue — it's their personal burden ... they view it as their problem as opposed to a societal problem that the government should be engaged with," Golden said.
Murray and Scott first introduced a version of the bill in 2017, though it didn't advance. The landscape is very different today, however. The issue of paid family leave — which, alongside making child care more affordable, is part of a two-fold solution to improve the lives of working families — has gained steam recently, on both sides of the aisle. These issues are now likely to play a bigger role in the 2020 presidential election. Just last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled an universal child care proposal. All the Democratic senators running for president are co-sponsors of the Child Care For Working Families Act, as well.
"The fact that [President Donald] Trump talked about family leave in State of the Union is something of a conversation starter on the Republican side of aisle," Golden said. "I think it's unlikely that anything will happen immediately. But it took six or seven years for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to be signed. All that time the legislation gestated, was improved, and there was a gradual buy in and an educational process for the wider public. I see that happening now too — we're starting a conversation."
She concluded that the biggest selling point for everyone is that making child care more affordable would boost the U.S. economy. "Businesses would benefit from enabling women [and parents in general] to remain in the workplace and return after a short leave," Golden said. "What prevents many from doing that is affordable, quality child care — so this is a good economic policy."