There are nearly 15 million American children under the age of six with working parents. Being able to afford quality child care continues to be one of one of the largest financial burdens facing working families, moreover, it has proven to be cost prohibitive for many. Public assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are intended to break the cycle of poverty, by allowing these families to gain access to high-quality child care.
On March 6th, the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education (ECESE) convened a hearing entitled ‘Strengthening Welfare to Work with Child Care’ that explored the importance of elevating a two-generational approach in order to meet the needs of both children and parents through high-quality child care in coordination with public assistance. Child care leaders provided testimony examining how quality child care can be bolstered through complementary efforts at the state and federal level in order to meaningfully support positive child and family outcomes. Witnesses included Brigitte Nieland, the Vice President of Education and Workforce Development for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI); Helene Stebbins, the Deputy Director of the Alliance for Early Success; Dr. Laurie Smith, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s Senior Policy Advisor on Education and Workforce Development; and Tammy Mann, PhD, President and CEO of The Campagna Center in Virginia, as well as President of the Governing Board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
ECESE Chairman Rokita (R-IN) made opening remarks highlighting the importance of coordinating high-quality child care and welfare programs in order to effectively help families find sustainable, good paying jobs: “No parent should have to make a choice between showing up for work and caring for their child.” The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which passed into law with significant bipartisan support, is the primary source of federal funding that provides assistance to eligible families for child care. Annually, 1.4 million children benefit from CCDBG, and connecting CCDBG families to work support programs is a way to move families out of poverty and into financial security. Vice Ranking Member Bonamici (D-OR), one of 117 co-sponsors of the Child Care for Working Families Act (CCFWA), emphasized that “too many parents are priced out of preschool and child care…more than 80 percent of families who qualify for child care assistance don’t receive it because of a lack of funding. That’s unacceptable. No child should be denied a strong start just because of their family’s economic circumstances.” Questions from the committee explored the benefits of cradle to career services, pathways for incentivizing private employers to offer onsite child care, facilitating the infrastructure for continuous improvement and accountability, expanding efforts such as the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships to better meet the need of infants and toddlers, and leveraging opportunities to ensure that families receiving public assistance benefit from child care access in order to attain good paying jobs that take and keep their family out of poverty.
Witness testimony underscored the undeniable link between child care and a strong American workforce. Ms. Stebbins outlined key priorities for improving the quality of child care in service to ending intergenerational poverty, which includes: prioritizing infant care, supporting a qualified, well-compensated child care workforce, reflecting the cost of quality in the cost of child care, and making the child care market compatible with the low-wage market to increase options for families that work non-traditional hours. While more work remains to raise the bar on quality and serve the eligible population, states are currently using CCDBG to provide child care for eligible families, in addition to coordinating with work support programs like TANF to complement the CCDBG investment, as well as providing tax incentives for private employers to offer onsite child care.
In Louisiana, an entrepreneurial approach to child care has been adopted by LABI, which listed early childhood education is a top priority in the last year. Recognizing that children today are the workforce of tomorrow, and driven by a commitment to Louisiana businesses employing Louisianans, LABI leads six pilot sites across the state in collaboration with the local business community, child care providers, philanthropic organizations, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, law enforcement, local military groups, governmental entities, and other interested stakeholders in their efforts to address the unmet child care needs of families with high-quality child care options.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shows that early childhood education accounts for $163 billion of the American gross domestic product. Dr. Mann demonstrated in her testimony that in addition to the research on child development, there is a strong economic argument for investing in child care. She argues this investment should be made through a cradle to career approach, which includes the children, their parents who can be productive at work knowing their children are safe and learning, and the child care workers. Addressing reimbursement rates in order to align them with the actual cost of care will allow providers to better meet the needs of the eligible infant and toddler population. Furthermore, through her work leading the Campagna Center, Dr. Mann emphasized the importance of addressing both the child’s developmental needs, and the parents needs in entering and remaining in the workforce. For parents, this includes diverse opportunities for job training that are responsive to the local job market and the parent population. As a result of this approach, 85% of the children who participate in the Campagna Center’s early childhood education program achieve school readiness by the time they enter kindergarten, which further supports the workforce of tomorrow.
Dr. Smith shared examples of innovative partnerships between the business sector and child care programs in Mississippi. These partnerships include businesses opening onsite child care for employees to make it easier for women to find, enter and remain in the workforce. Additionally, Mississippi Works, an app available to parents who may be participating in programs such as SNAP, CCDBG, TANF or Medicaid, connects parents a streamlined platform that links them to job openings and community college courses that can help them qualify for better paying jobs. By embedding a locally-responsive path for continuous improvement, Mississippi has seen success within the population served.
Across different states and varied approaches, one thing is clear: there is a deep commitment to public-private partnerships at the federal, state and local level in an effort to provide families with viable options for quality child care. Stakeholders in both public and private sectors time and again demonstrate their understanding of the benefits and efficacy of high-quality early learning and care opportunities, not only for the individual child, but for the entire family and the American economy overall.
To view the hearing, click here.