Child C.A.R.E. Act Introduced in Congress: Bigger than Baby Steps
Our youngest children need high-quality early care and education to promote their learning and development and enable their parents to work. Yet, for many families, high-quality care is out of reach because it is unaffordable—the average annual cost of center care for an infant ranges from over $4,800 in Mississippi to over $17,000 in Massachusetts—or nowhere to be found in their communities. Legislation introduced yesterday aims to address this dilemma by making a significant new investment in early care and education for infants and toddlers from low-income families.
The Child Care Access to Resources for Early-learning (C.A.R.E.) Act—sponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Lois Frankel (D-FL)—would provide $25 billion in new funding over five years for early care and education. This funding would be used to provide access to high-quality child care for all children under age four in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $40,000 a year for a family of three) by 2021.
In addition to helping low-income families pay for child care for their very young children, the legislation also strives to make sure these families have high-quality options available—options that meet or exceed education and development standards comparable to those for Head Start and Early Head Start. It would fund payment rates that support fair wages for child care providers and a resource-rich early learning environment for young children. It would also fund professional development opportunities to enable child care providers to enhance their skills and knowledge. In addition, the legislation encourages coordination across community service providers and across early learning providers so that children receive the comprehensive services they need and have seamless transitions into their early school years.
To receive funding, states would have to improve the quality of care and expand access to care for children under age four, and would have to match the federal funding. States would be required to use at least 80 percent of their funding for direct services and at least 12 percent of their funding to improve quality.
A small portion of overall funding is reserved for grants to states to support child care during nontraditional and unpredictable hours. This provision is particularly important for parents working in low-wage jobs that require evening, night, weekend, or irregular hours. Child care funded by these grants would not have to meet the same standards that apply to most care funded by the bill.
This legislation puts babies ahead of corporations: the $25 billion in mandatory funding for early care and education is fully offset in the Senate bill by restricting U.S. companies’ ability to reduce their tax liability by relocating their legal domicile abroad through tax inversions.
This legislation would help the many parents who are trying to work to support their families and ensure their very young children are in nurturing environments that set them on a path to success. If enacted, the legislation would be more than a baby step—it would be a major step forward for families, children, and our nation.