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A Good Start to the Coming Year for Children and Their Families

Young children and their families got a valuable holiday gift from Congress and the Obama Administration last week when they approved budget and tax legislation that increases funding for early learning and preserves tax credits for working families that help lift millions of children out of poverty.

High-quality child care and early learning opportunities are essential to helping families work and children succeed in school, and thus supporting our current and future economy. Congress, recognizing the importance of early care and education, made it a priority in the final FY 2016 appropriations measure. They added $326 million to Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding, which could help states implement health and safety improvements and other reforms included in last year’s bipartisan CCDBG reauthorization. The additional funding will help states meet the 2014 law’s requirements without being forced to cut back on the number of low-income children receiving child care assistance.

Children Playing with Animals in Day CareThe budget also includes $570 million in additional funding for Head Start, $294 million of which will be used to enable programs to offer full-school-day services to preschoolers. Another portion of the new Head Start funding will be used to allow more infants and toddlers to participate in Early Head Start or to benefit from enriched child care experiences through Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships. The expansion of Early Head Start is particularly important given the enormous shortage of high-quality opportunities to support our youngest children.

The budget includes $250 million to continue the Preschool Development Grants program as well—a big relief for families with preschool-age children in the 18 states that were already receiving these grants and using them to expand and strengthen their preschool programs.

In addition, the budget included small increases for both Preschool Grants and Grants for Infants and Families, which support services for infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children with disabilities and special needs.

In addition, the legislation is a major anti-poverty achievement. By making permanent the improvements to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit that were enacted in the 2009 Recovery Act, the legislation ensures that 8 million children will not fall into, or deeper into, poverty each year.

These gains were fueled by the perseverance of advocates for children and families across the country, leaders in Congress who understand the importance of investing in the early years, and the strong commitment of the Obama Administration to children and families. Of course, with fewer than one in six children receiving federal child care assistance and the extremely low pay of child care teachers, and still far too many children in poverty, there is much more to be done. But in this holiday season, we should take a moment to celebrate—and then start working to build on this progress in the new year ahead.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.