Increasing Access to Child Care
The following OpEd from Raja initially ran in the Daily Herald on August 19th, 2015:
Most children under age 5 today are growing up with working mothers. But as a nation, we’re doing far too little to help mothers care for their kids while they’re at work.
This lesson was brought home to me when my wife Priya had to go out-of-state for her professional training, and I became the primary caregiver for our first son. What I quickly learned was that quality child care is very difficult to find and, when you can find it, it’s expensive. This was true for our family, with two working parents with good jobs. The challenge for other working families, including those with single parents, is many times worse.
So, why should this be a concern for the government in Washington? Why not just let parents fend for themselves? The answer is that quality child care is important for the children who benefit from it. It’s also critical to enabling more Americans to participate in our workforce, improving their own economic standing and our country’s competitiveness as a whole.
Studies show that affordable, quality child care is a smart investment with long term positive effects on a child’s education, health, drug and alcohol use, and other social behavior well into adulthood.
According to some research, it returns $8 in benefits for every $1 invested. It is universally accepted today that ensuring a child’s preparedness to enter kindergarten is a critical step for their future success in school. Just as important, affordable child care is essential in enabling more parents, particularly mothers, to participate in the workforce — or to attend school to help them qualify for a better job. Yet, such high-quality child care in Illinois today can cost $12,000 or more annually — about the same amount as a year of tuition for a state university.
The good news is that Congress recognized the importance of quality, affordable child care by passing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The bad news is that the current Congress is attempting to eliminate the core, educational provisions of that law.
The Child Care Block Grant was designed to help low- and moderate-income working parents with the cost of child care and increase the availability and quality of that care. The program is administered by each state, which matches the federal funds it receives. Preschool development grants funded under that law assisted 18 states last year in expanding their quality preschools — and more states are eager to apply.
Unfortunately, those funds are eliminated in both House and Senate appropriations for FY 2016, and the funding for Head Start and Early Head Start are minimal compared to the need. These investments in our future should be expanding, not decreasing. While assistance in paying for child care is important, more direct economic help should be available to parents struggling with the costs of raising children.
President Obama has proposed tripling the maximum Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit from $1,000 to $3,000 per child for families with children under age 5, and to make the full credit available to most middle-class families. More than 5 million families would benefit from this reform. Making the credit refundable, increasing the expense limits, and annually adjusting them for inflation would provide even greater help to low- and moderate-income families.
Expanding child care and early childhood education programs is good policy that will help individual children while increasing job opportunities for parents and strengthening our economy as a whole. There are few things that Congress could do that are more important for our future. In a Congress that’s doing too few things, we should make sure that this is one that gets done.