Last week, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Bobby Scott introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act of 2021 which would make needed investments in our nation’s child care system and expand access to affordable, high-quality early learning programs.
The first five years of a child’s life are a time of both great opportunity and risk as their brain develops more rapidly than at any other point. High-quality early childhood development and learning opportunities from birth to age five have been proven to buffer negative impacts of poverty and other stressors and improve outcomes throughout a child’s life. Children who grow up in supportive environments are more likely to develop self-confidence, an increased desire to learn, and better impulse control as well as improved achievement in school and throughout their life.
However, the persistent lack of investment in high-quality child care has exacerbated racial inequities in opportunities for learning and development. While Black children enroll in early childhood programs at about the same rate as their white peers, the quality of their preschool experiences differs. The quality of programs Black children attend are lower on average than that of programs attended by white children. Investments in high-quality programs are needed to ensure all children have access to early learning opportunities that support their healthy growth and development.
As child care costs continue to rise, too many families—especially families with low-incomes and families of color—are left without affordable options. Center-based child care for an infant cost more than public college tuition in 28 states and the District of Columbia in 2019. In one study, more than 80 percent of two-child families were paying more for child care than for rent. Though many families with low incomes need help to afford care, only a small portion of eligible children and families are served due to underfunding.
Without consistent access to child care, children lose out on valuable opportunities to learn and grow, and countless parents—particularly mothers—are forced to leave their jobs. And the pandemic has only heightened this crisis: more than 100,000 providers closed with uncertain plans of re-opening, 330,000 child care jobs were lost in April 2020 alone, and 2.2 million women have left the workforce largely due to caregiving responsibilities. Following this further upheaval of an already under-resourced child care system, significant investments are even more urgent for children, families, and child care workers.
The Child Care for Working Families Act would take a huge step forward in addressing the nation’s child care crisis. Specifically the bill would:
- Cap child care costs at seven percent of income for working families earning below 150 percent of state median incomes;
- Improve the quality and supply of child care by supporting child care for children who are dual-language learners, children experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care as well as increasing care options for children who receive care during non-traditional hours;
- Expand access to high-quality preschool programs by providing funding for states to establish and expand programs for 3- and 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families and providing needed funding to ensure all Head Start programs receive the support they need to provide full-day, full-year programming; and
- Support living wages for child care workers and ensure parity with elementary school teachers who have similar credentials and experience.
The Children’s Defense Fund is proud to endorse this legislation to increase children’s access to high-quality learning opportunities, help parents and especially moms return to the workforce, and support an under-resourced and under-valued but critical workforce largely made up of women of color.