Wyden Joins Warren to Introduce Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act
Lawmakers Call for President Biden to Invest $700 Billion in Child Care
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden today joined U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and colleagues to introduce legislation that would ensure every family in Oregon and nationwide has access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning opportunities by establishing a network of federally-supported, locally administered child care options.
“Working families in Oregon and throughout our country face the daunting challenge of soaring child care expenses while trying to make a living that lets them make rent, buy groceries, cover medical bills and other basic essentials. This legislation is a long-overdue must to ensure universal quality, affordable child care and early education that would build rock-solid support for the economic security and well-being of children and their working parents,” said Wyden, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “If we want to recover from the economic catastrophe of the last year, America needs a $700 billion investment in families by making affordable child care a reality for everyone.”
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act responds to the fact that over the past generation, wages have effectively remained flat while the cost of child care has skyrocketed. In nearly half of all states in America, infant child care costs are higher than the cost of in-state public college tuition. Meanwhile, low-income families spend almost one-fifth of their entire income on child care, and only one-third of families can send their children to child care centers or home-based day care sites at all. This lack of access to high-quality, affordable care prevents parents from fully participating in the workforce, holding them back from career and educational opportunities and placing a drag on our entire economy. Lack of affordable, high-quality care also means many children in the U.S. start kindergarten without the skills they need to reach their full potential.
The American Rescue Plan included more than $40 billion for child care programs, but that much-needed emergency relief funding is not a long-term solution to the lack of affordable, high quality child care for working families. Child care providers, who already operated on razor-thin margins, have experienced closures, reduced enrollment, and increased operating costs throughout the pandemic. By one estimate, the combined relief funds are enough to fill this revenue gap for less than six months.
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act would have lasting positive effects, not just on children and families, but on the economy at large. A recent study from the National Women's Law Center and the Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that providing affordable, high-quality child care to every family that needs it would increase the number of women with young children working full time by 17%, narrow the pay gap between women and men, and increase women's lifetime earnings by nearly $100,000 on average, with a corresponding increase in their savings and Social Security benefits.
Lack of access to high-quality, affordable child care prevents parents from fully participating in the workforce, holding them back from career and educational opportunities and placing a drag on our entire economy. Lack of affordable, high-quality care also means many children in the U.S. start kindergarten without the skills they need to reach their full potential.
The legislation would fund a system of locally-run, affordable, and high-quality child care programs inspired by the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1971, which was vetoed by President Nixon. The lawmakers' proposal builds on the successes of both the federal Head Start program and the U.S. Department of Defense military child care program.
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act would do the following:
- Ensure universal access: This legislation provides a mandatory federal investment to establish and support a network of locally-run Child Care and Early Learning Centers and Family Child Care Homes so that every family, regardless of their income or employment, can access high-quality, affordable child care options for their children from birth to school entry.
- Guarantee affordability: Families below 200% of the federal poverty line (about $53,000 for a family of four) could access these child care options at zero cost. Families with higher incomes would pay a subsidized fee on a sliding scale based on their income, as in the military child care program. No family would pay more than 7% of their income for these public child care options.
- Invest in child care workers: The legislation ensures parity by requiring that wages and benefits for child care workers be comparable to those of similarly-credentialed local public school teachers, and invests in worker training and professional development modeled after the military child care program.
- Include pre-Kindergarten educational services: The network of Centers and Family Child Care Homes would provide pre-K curriculum and educational services for children before they enter kindergarten. This legislation would also incentivize states and cities to expand their investments in early childhood education.
- Build on existing programs: The legislation builds on the successful federal Head Start program to create a universal system for families that cannot access Head Start services, while preserving the Head Start program for families eligible for those services. It also maintains the Child Care and Development Fund to help low-income families access other care options, including extended hours and afterschool care for children up to age 13.
- Establish Universal Child Care without increasing the deficit: After accounting for the economic impacts of this legislation, Moody’s Analytics estimates that the program would cost the federal government approximately $70 billion per year or $700 billion over 10 years. Senator Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax is projected to raise more than four times that amount of revenue over the same period. Consequently, if Congress funded this program using revenue from Senator Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax, the program would not increase the deficit.
In addition to Wyden, other co-sponsors of the legislation introduced in Senate by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are U.S. Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act has been endorsed by the National Women’s Law Center; the Center for Law and Social Policy; the National Education Association; the American Federation of Teachers; the Service Employees International Union; Zero to Three; Save the Children; All Our Kin; the Coalition for Social Justice; Community Change Action; and Neighborhood Villages.
Bill text is here.
A bill summary is here.
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