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As Congressional Democrats Move to Reconciliation, Child Care and Preschool Must Be a Top Priority

News July 28, 2021

WASHINGTON — Earlier today, the White House and Congressional leaders announced an agreement on the details of a bipartisan bill to invest in the nation’s physical infrastructure. With this agreement in, Congressional Democrats are expected to unveil the details of a separate legislative package aimed at addressing the needs of children and families, including a significant investment in America’s child care and early learning system. In response to the day’s developments, First Five Years Fund (FFYF) executive director Sarah Rittling issued the following statement: 

“After weeks of tough negotiations, it’s great to see bipartisan agreement on how best to address America’s infrastructure needs. As Congress moves forward on this proposal, it is imperative that lawmakers now turn their attention to passing a significant, sustained investment in child care and preschool in the upcoming budget reconciliation package. The systemic care challenges that have plagued families and providers for decades can no longer be ignored. Half of Americans live in an area without quality care options at all. And because high-quality early care and education is such an expensive service to deliver, providers of all sizes are faced with an entirely untenable business model that often translates into near-poverty wages for early educators. The child care crisis has become an insurmountable challenge that can only be addressed through meaningful federal funding and reforms.

“President Biden and congressional leaders have put forth a comprehensive suite of ideas for a well-funded federal-state partnership that reinforces the benefits of a strong mixed delivery system and prioritizes parent choice, both in whether to utilize non-parental care, but also in determining the type and setting of care that best meets their needs. Amid so many important priorities competing for limited funding, there can be no doubt that child care and preschool are crucial to America’s economic recovery and long-term economic success. Congressional Democrats have an opportunity to invest in an early learning system that ensures every working family who needs it can find and afford options for high-quality child care and education.”

After decades of instability and underfunding, new data from a survey of over 7,500 early educators paint a grim picture for the future of the child care sector in America. Even after crucial federal relief funding was successful in keeping many early learning facilities in business through the pandemic and preventing the industry from collapsing entirely, the existing structure of America’s child care market is unsustainable for families, providers, and the economy. According to the survey, four out of five child care centers said they had a staffing shortage and roughly three out of four say they’re losing workers to public schools, retail jobs, and warehouse jobs. Due in part to staffing challenges, programs that are open are operating at an average enrollment rate of 71% of their licensed capacity. Meanwhile, most parents can’t afford the high cost of care, which is roughly $10,000 per year, on average. Half of Americans live in a child care desert, with only one available space for every three children in need of care. 

Earlier this year, the White House unveiled the details of President Biden’s American Families Plan, which includes a proposed $225 billion investment to make high-quality child care available and affordable to all working families who need it, $220 billion to expand voluntary preschool access to all 3- and 4-year-olds, and a permanent extension of recent improvements from the American Rescue Plan to various tax credits, including to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC), among other provisions like the Child Tax Credit to help working parents and young children.

This week more than 130 national, state, and local organizations and child care providers, led by First Five Years Fund (FFYF), wrote to Democratic Congressional leaders with a clear message: Congress must include and pass significant, sustained funding to address the systemic problems facing our child care and early learning structure as part of the upcoming budget reconciliation package. The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with the chairs of relevant Congressional committees, including Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Patty Murray, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmouth, House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal.

Underscoring the bipartisan nature of addressing the nation’s long standing child care challenges, FFYF’s national polling shows overwhelming support among Republican and Democratic voters nationally and in key electoral swing states for a wide range of federal early learning and care policy proposals, including increased federal funding for child care, expanded access to preschool, and child care tax credits for working parents. This indicates huge electoral advantages and virtually no political downside for lawmakers to support many of the policies included in this legislation.

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