Skip Navigation

First Five Questions For Reps. Tenney and Schneider

News April 11, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The First Five Years Fund (FFYF) hosted Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Congressman Brad Schneider (D-Il) as part of our First Five Question Series – a monthly video series which brings together leaders, experts, and interesting voices to talk about child care challenges, policy ideas, bipartisanship and more. Moderated by FFYF Executive Director Sarah Rittling, the two lawmakers discussed the importance of affordable, accessible child care and their bipartisan legislation – the Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone (PACE) Act

The PACE act modernizes two specific tax credits, the Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit (CDCTC) and Dependent Care Flexible Spend Accounts to help more parents afford the child care they need. Read more about it here. 

Check out the video below and read the Q&A* to hear what these two leaders think about child care challenges, solutions, and hopes for the future.

Rittling: Hello and welcome to FFYF’s First Five Question Series, where I am fortunate to talk to experts, champions, and leaders about the realities of child care in the United States today. My name is Sarah Ritling, and I’m the Executive Director of First Five Years Fund, a bipartisan advocacy organization working to sustain and expand federal support for child care and early learning.

We’re joined today by two fantastic congressional child care champions and co-sponsors of the Promoting Affordable Child Care For Everyone, or, as we refer to it, the PACE Act, a bipartisan bill to update important tax provisions that help more parents afford the child care they need.

Specifically, the PACE Act modernizes two tax credits: the Child Care and Dependent Care Tax Credit, or CDCTC –  rolls right off the tongue –  which goes directly to the parent to offset the cost of care. 

And, the Dependent Care Flexible Spend Accounts, which are similar to your health savings, and allow parents to set aside a small amount of their paycheck to pay for their child care expenses. But you’ll hear more about that, plus why child care is so important for families in their districts, from our two incredible guests. 

We are joined by Congressman Claudia Tenney, of New York, who, during her time in Congress, has worked to improve access to affordable and high quality care for working families. 

And Congressman Brad Schneider, of Illinois, who has made accessing child care challenges for families and children a top legislative priority. 

Welcome to both of you. We’re so excited you could join us today. 


Rittling: As busy members of Congress, of all the issues you could be involved in: why child care? Why is this issue important to you personally? Congressman Schneider, we’re going to start with you.

Schneider: Great. Well, well, thank you, and thank you for having me. I’m proud to work with Claudia on trying to advance affordability for one of the most important expenses, and oftentimes most burdenful expenses, families have: Child care.

You want to have the confidence to know that your son or daughter, or multiple kids, are being taken care of while you’re at work: It’s critical for our economy, it’s critical for our families. But most importantly, it’s critical for our children. 

And as a country we need to be investing in our kids. They literally are our future. And we know that for so many people in this country, the cost of child care is an excessive burden on their family budget. Any way we can look to try to enhance that – whether it’s bringing down the cost of care or making care more affordable by using pre-tax dollars – these are things we can do to try to make a difference and help the families make ends meet.

Rittling: Excellent Congresswoman Tenney?

Tenney: Yes, well, thank you for having me on. It’s great to be on with Brad, and have a long time friendship with him, and also on this really important issue. I raised my son as a single parent, but I also took care of my parents, who lived across the street. So this isn’t just child care. This bill is also about dependent care, and caring for a spouse as well. So I think it’s really important that we’re helping families who are really trying to maintain and keep themselves in the workforce, but also taking care of their families. 

I didn’t have an option. I had to have child care. Both my ex-husband and I worked. When I was divorced, I didn’t have an option and it was always so expensive to find child care. 

You’re always weighing the concern about making sure you have affordable child care, but also something in place where your precious son or daughter, or multiple kids in some cases, are going where they’re going to get good care, with access to some kind of learning environment, where they’re going to be at a day care program as they get a little older, almost like a nursery school. Having the option to be able to take advantage of this on the tax level, I think, is really important. I didn’t have this advantage when I was young and raising my son.

I think it would have been terrific to have this opportunity to be able to know that I had a place where I could at least find some affordability. And also like what every parent fears: What is going to happen when I get home? Is your child safe? Did they get injured? What happened at day care?

And so those are things that if you have to work, we want to make sure you get that option. Women have the choice now, you don’t have to stay at home. You can go to work. Men have the option. They can stay at home and or go to work. But I love the opportunity. I got to go to work. I think it was great for my son. It’s funny, because both Brad and I have a child that are serving in our military. So I think it does work, you know. It’s a good thing to have independence and to work with people. 

I’d like to reduce the risk and the cost to people. So they know they have safe, affordable child care while they’re out working and growing their own personal wealth and careers. 

Rittling: We hear a lot about peace of mind, and then what having options that you can take advantage of means for families. And so I think you really highlight what it means to be in a sandwich generation, and having to care for your little ones as well as those who took care of you. And of course the PACE Act does address both of those things.


Rittling: Is there anything else you want to add about the importance of this bill and what it could mean if you were able to move it forward?

We’re gonna stick with you, Congresswoman Tenny, 

Tenney: Yeah, well, I think it’s first of all, the PACE Act gives flexibility. It gives families the option to get a little bit of a breather with inflation and some of the things that are happening with the cost of living out there. It gives families another option with a tax credit or tax benefit. Through the PACE Act, we increased the numbers that you can get – I think it’s $5,000 to $7,500. 

Child care is expensive. And so it accounts for the changes in the economic situation that we’re in. The other thing I would add is that I did take care of my parents across the street, and I paid for a lot of things. My dad had a retirement account, but I had to pay for a lot of it. We didn’t want to put my dad in a nursing home or assisted living facility because he was blind and in a wheelchair, and we just wanted him to have the best quality of life that he could have being home. It would have been nice to have something like this for my income at the time, or even for my mom and me. She ended up getting sick as well. 

So these are options that we’re giving families who really want to care for their loved ones, who want to give them a better quality of life. And it’s proven that compassionate care will actually prolong the life of someone who is struggling, and also makes them happier – it makes everyone happier – and more comforted when you know that you can care for someone. You know that you see them and you know what’s happening. I think so many people don’t have that option. The PACE Act gives families more options with a little bit more of a benefit to people who find themselves, like I did, in the so-called sandwich generation.

Rittling: Congressman Schneider. Anything you want to add about the importance of this bill? 

Schneider: Claudia talked about the burden on families, and in particular, single parents. Single parents with 2 kids might be paying as much as $500 a week for day care over the course of the year. That’s more than $25,000 a year and these are after tax dollars. Someone who is earning $40-50,000 a year is seeing a huge portion of their income going to daycare, making it almost impossible to even afford to go to work.

So we’re trying to move some of this into pre tax dollars, trying to bring the cost down, making affordable child care more accessible and allowing people to get into their career. 

It has a long term effect, because those young people who have young families are able to continue to stay in the workforce and get the skills and lessons of those working years. Their prospects for success later on, as their kids are older and they go to school, they can work with less time demands on the family. They can have their careers and provide better for their children into their later years as well.


Rittling: Absolutely. I often make the case that it’s not all that complicated When you’re articulating the problem: there’s not enough of it, and the options that are there and available are expensive for a host of reasons. But the truth is, it actually can be complicated. And you’re taking a really big step in trying to address a real problem with a real solution.

The flip side, though we know we’re talking a lot about how we’re able to afford it and the options there, and providing that’s that peace of mind. But we know that there’s a supply issue as well: In the workforce, and the difficulty in finding and keeping qualified providers and teachers. I know you’re probably reading about it at home, and having conversations with constituents. Congressman Schneider, you’ve just recently come from a visit.

Is there anything you want to add, in terms of the workforce side as well as your own experience with your constituents at home in your districts?

Schneider: It’s a really important question, because it’s not just a matter of the demand side. We have people with young children who need child care. You need to have a supply side. You need workers. We have a shortage of workers in every industry in this country. I don’t have a visit to a company in my district where they’re not talking about the challenge they have in getting workers. 

But in particular education and especially early childhood education… it’s a hard job. It’s a demanding job. It is long hours, and it’s comparatively low pay. And so, for all of those reasons, it makes it harder to attract and retain quality educators and quality caregivers. Everyone wants for their children to have the best possible caregivers. So the more money we can invest in child care, and creating career opportunities and advancement opportunities for these caregivers and early childhood educators, the better. 

We’re going to serve our children and ultimately our nation. So that’s why I think this and other things we’re working on to invest in child care and invest into people who are providing that care makes a whole lot of sense. And I think that’s why you can see broad support for doing just that.

Rittling: Congresswoman Tenney, anything you want to add in terms of what you’re hearing back home, and the experience of your constituents?

Tenney: Well, this is still a big problem in my district. I don’t know how similar my district is to Brad’s, but my district is really large and very rural. Some suburban areas, some small cities, but it’s mostly composed of small businesses, so we don’t have a whole lot of big players unless it’s a school district or a government agency. Many people don’t have options. 

And that’s one of the problems that we face with our small businesses. We wanted to do everything we could to make sure we get our employees to come back to work when they have children. We provided some of those options through our health care plan and some of our benefits, you know, to get a child care deduction and all those things. It’s great that we’ve got this bill now, and hopefully we’ll get this passed, and make sure this option is out there. 

We do worry about peace of mind. I know I used to be really nervous, and I didn’t have a lot of options. I was on a waiting list before my son was even born. Then we got in, and we found out a couple of weeks before he was born that the person that was supposed to do the child care couldn’t do it. And then we had to scramble, and I had to find a place to get my son. 

It was not easy to find people that would do that. And we did finally find a day care center that was part of a school nursery. They had a good program, but I had to wait on the list to get in there, too. I went back to work within 2 weeks because I was a lawyer. I used to bring him to closings and things with me in his little basket. 

These are not options for everybody, you know. I was a lawyer, kind of independent in a way, that worked in a firm. But we want to make sure people have options so they can have peace of mind, so they know that they can go to work and come home after a fulfilling day, and spend good quality time with their children, who have been in a safe environment that they can afford. And so we just want to find ways like this that we can let them then do that. 

And, we want to make child care a worthy job and give benefits to people that might want to get into this work, not just for the parents but also for the person that decides to devote themselves to child care. It’s not like going to McDonald’s. You have to love children. You have to care for people. It’s like going to a nursing home. It’s like working with seniors. Brad and I both like people, we like to work in our business. You have to. And you’re not gonna be successful at it if you don’t want to work with people. 

And so making a fulfilling, satisfying job to provide child care and even to help and assist with seniors and other people who are dependents. I couldn’t have taken care of my father, he  had to have a lift, he had a lot of health issues. We had to hire people. 

But I did a lot of that myself. It would have been great to have some of the benefits in the PACE Act for the amount of money I spent, and the amount of time I gave up for my job to be able to do that when there was no opportunity that was really affordable.


Rittling: You are a dynamic duo in leading in a bipartisan way. The issue of child care and early learning has historically been tremendously bipartisan. I don’t think people fully capture how members of Congress do truly come together on issues. We tend not to see that as much in reporting, or wherever you get your social media. 

Drawing attention to the fact that both of you have come together on a real world problem in your districts and in the country to try to work together toward a solution is really meaningful and impactful. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on bipartisanship in this issue in particular.

Tenney: Bipartisanship is something that is very alive and well in Washington. As you cited accurately, it doesn’t get talked about because it doesn’t create clicks. You can’t really monetize it. No one cares about, oh, they’re getting along. We don’t want to talk about that, especially the media. 

But there’s a lot of bipartisanship. Brad and I came in together in our freshman year, and under the current Speaker actually started a commitment to civility. One of the things that we pledged to do was not only work together, but to do bipartisan legislation and find ways that we can find common ground.

 It has always been a mission of mine since my first term and I have the good fortune, as Brad does, to serve on the Ways and Means Committee. We have fantastic people on both sides, who are really earnest about and interested in working together and coming up with bipartisan solutions. And I think that that has actually been a lifesaver for many of us in Congress. 

One of the best things about the Ways and Means Committee to me is that it’s so bipartisan. And people are really tackling issues that affect lives over such a broad jurisdiction of Congress. I mean, almost 70% of the jurisdiction of what we do on the legislative side actually goes through the Ways and Means Committee. And one thing that I love is some of the great members that we get to work with on both sides. 

I’ve worked with Brad for a long time on other issues, but this is something that I actually worry more about – whether my conference can work together. I’m not worried about working with a lot of the Democrats. So that’s my little joke for this. But there’s some moments where I’m going, “Boy, I don’t know what’s gonna happen here,” But there’s a lot of like-minded people, and there’s a lot of really good people that we work with on both sides. And I think they really make it fun to do the job and fun to find solutions, and we’re not as far apart as we think we are.

Once you sit down and start talking about the real issues, you realize that we really do have a lot in common.

Rittling: Congressman Schneider?

Schneider: I agree with Claudia. I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this. This is a place that if you want to get on TV, if you want to have a big social media following…You can divide Congress into show horses and work horses. The show horses are the ones you see on TV. The workhorses are the ones you don’t see so much, but they’re the ones sitting at the conference tables or in committee hearings, walking across the aisle, talking to colleagues, saying, “Hey, how do we work on this? How can we find common ground?”

Claudia and I are a good example of that. In some ways we come from opposite places. Claudia is Republican. I’m a Democrat. Claudia’s district is – you’ll correct me if I don’t get it quite right – mostly rural, with a significant share of some suburban and urban towns. Mine is mostly suburban within urban, with a significant share of rural. 

So we could talk about the opposites, but what makes more sense if we’re gonna work together. Let’s talk about where there’s overlap, where there’s common ground. 

Where Claudia and I first found that common ground was talking about our kids. We both have sons in the military.

I think where that bond is first: the pride we have in our kids, the worry we have for our kids. Not because of the military, because it’s our job to worry about our kids. That’s the nature of being a a parent. And the hope we have for our kids’ future. 

When you start there – the hope for the future, what does that mean? Well, that means we have a growing economy. That means we’re trying to make sure everyone has opportunities, and education. You need to succeed. And when kids graduate they move on into their adult life, or they have chances to provide for their families, have a nice home, quality healthcare, etc, etc. 

When you’re there, there’s a lot of overlap. We can have that conversation on our challenges. We have a very narrowly split Congress. I I think it’s a one or two vote majority, which means a few of the show horses can gum up the system. But the workhorses get together. If we keep our nose to the stone and our shoulders to the wheel, we’ll get it done.

Rittling: Well thank you for doing that, and working together. Whether you’re from a red state or district, or a blue state, or district, or purple, or rural or urban. The fact is that families are rying to care for their children, to be able to do what’s right for their children and for their families. It doesn’t really matter where you’re from or what political party you belong to.The fact that you’ve teamed up together to try to address this problem is tremendous and we appreciate it. 


Rittling: My favorite question, what gives you hope?

Schneider: What gives me hope? I’ll start with my kids – our kids. That’s what gives us hope. 

My oldest has his birthday on Sunday, so I’m thinking back to when Claudia mentioned that anxiety right before he was born. He was 2 weeks late, and, thank God, because we were never ready. We put that two weeks to good use: finding care and all the things that we’ve talked about.

I went to a daycare center last week, and the first classroom I visited was the infants. It went all the way up through the five year olds and seeing the bright eyes on these kids. I also talked to high school students and college students, and you see the hope they have. My district is mostly urban, more suburban. But I also have a naval station:  Great Lakes. So every young person who enlists in the Navy comes to my district for basic training. To see those young people who are willing to raise their hands and say, “I’m ready to serve our nation, protect our nation, gives me hope.”

But you see that not just in the folks who are signing up for the military. You see that walking around the halls of Congress in all the people who come here to talk about the issues they care about. We have a country of citizens who care about their country and our country’s future.

If we can tap into that energy and tap into that power – and if we can try to put aside the politics and the partisanship and focus on where there’s common ground and shared vision – we can work for a better future. That gives me hope for our kids, and those of us who have already raised our kids and are looking at our future. 

Rittling: Congresswoman? 

Tenney: What gives me hope on this issue is number one: The Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee used to be the sponsor of the PACE Act, so I think that gives us a good opportunity to possibly get this out there. But also the fact that we didn’t get our initial tax package done. That was bipartisan, but we think we’re going to have another opportunity. And so I’m hoping that that could happen and some initiative like this could be attached.

I think child care is just an issue that everyone deals with. I have hope that people will understand that, and it’s easy to grasp. 

Tax breaks are helpful, and especially pre-tax dollars. Those are good things and give us hope that the PACE Act is actually going to potentially be out there – plus the strong bipartisan support. 

I don’t know when it would happen. I don’t know if it would be before the election or in the lame duck. We’ll see, but I feel positive about it.

Rittling: That’s tremendous to hear. Thank you so much. For all you do. Thank you for your partnership and a special thanks for introducing the PACE ACt. We’re eager to help do all we can to fulfill the hope that you have, Congresswoman, to get it across the finish line. 

*Note: This Q&A has been lightly edited and shortened for publication.

Stay Updated

Receive monthly updates on the latest news, policy, and actions to advance federal investment in children and their families.