Congress Needs to Make Child Care a Priority

iStock_000008250190SmallYesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill for FY 2017, which includes some very bad news for working families in need of child care assistance.
In November 2014, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) with broad bipartisan support. The goals of the reauthorization were to increase the health, safety, and quality of child care and ensure more stable child care assistance to low-income families. However, implementing the changes called for in the CCDBG reauthorization and achieving these goals requires a significant increase in funding.
Not only is new funding important for meeting new requirements, but it is also critical to help reach the many families who are eligible for child care assistance but do not receive it. Currently, only one in six children eligible for child care assistance under CCDBG receives it.
As illustrated in NWLC’s recent report, Set Up to Fail: When Low-Wage Work Jeopardizes Parents’ and Children’s Success, parents in low-wage jobs—who could greatly benefit from child care assistance—have particular challenges in accessing this assistance due to their often irregular hours, fluctuating incomes, and other aspects of their jobs. As a result, they are forced to make tough choices. Parents in low-wage jobs who try to pay for child care without assistance must stretch their budgets and struggle to pay for other expenses such as food, rent, and utilities. Parents frequently have no option but to turn to lower-cost care, which often means care that is less reliable or lower quality.
CCDBG’s insufficient funding harms not only families but child care providers as well. Only one state pays child care providers who serve families receiving child care assistance at the federally recommended reimbursement rate. Low reimbursement rates deprive providers of the resources they need to support high-quality care and result in salaries that are often too low for providers to support themselves and their own families.
Despite this clear need for additional child care funding, the Senate Appropriations Committee increased CCDBG funding for FY 2017 by only $25 million. This falls far short of the additional $722 million that the Department of Health and Human Services projects states would need to meet the costs of the CCDBG reauthorization for this year and the additional $500 million necessary to cover the cost of inflation and thus prevent a further decline in the number of children receiving child care assistance—which already decreased by 43,000 children between 2013 and 2014 alone.
This failure to substantially increase child care funding simply does not make sense. Research is clear that high-quality child care not only helps low-income moms get jobs and lessens the negative effects of poverty and instability, but also supports children’s healthy development and success in school.
It’s not too late for Congress to reverse course and make the needed investments in child care. Otherwise, it will be low-income children and families and the caregivers who support them who will suffer.