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Progressive lawmakers push child care plans ahead of President Biden's proposal

April 27, 2021

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Tuesday unveiled a $700 billion plan to help families get affordable, quality child care in the United States. Her proposal comes as the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the persistent challenges families face finding and paying for care. 

Warren's Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, which is being reintroduced in the House by Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York, is one of several child care proposals from lawmakers putting pressure on President Biden as he prepares to release his own, part of the the American Families Plan, in his first address to Congress on Wednesday. Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia also released legislation last week. 

The effort would "fix our broken child care system and ensure that women and families are not left behind in our recovery. Our legislation would guarantee all parents affordable access to safe and nurturing child care and early learning opportunities for their kids," Warren said in a statement first provided to CBS News. "Expanding quality child care would create jobs, increase productivity, and have lifelong benefits for children's development and growth."

Warren's plan would pay to set up and support a network of child care and early learning centers and family child care homes, in partnership with local cities, school districts, states, tribal organizations and other nonprofits based on community needs. 

Through the plan, families living on twice the federal poverty line would be guaranteed free access to child care. For a family of four, that comes out to $53,000. Families earning more would pay a subsidized price for child care based on their income. No families would pay more than 7% of income for public child care, which is the affordability standard set by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Today, in more than half the states in America, a year of child care costs more than a year of in-state college tuition," Jones said in a statement. "In Westchester County in my district, center-based care for an infant costs $21,000/year — nearly the entire annual income of a family living at the federal poverty line. Our childcare system is deeply broken, and those who can least afford it are paying the highest price as a result."

The plan also calls for mental and physical health and dental care for children who need it, similar to the Head Start program, which provides comprehensive early child education, nutrition and other services to low-income children and families. Their goal is for the legislation to build on Head Start to create a universal system while still preserving the existing program. Standards would be based on those currently used by U.S. military child care and Head Start. 

At the same time, Warren and Jones are calling for increased pay for child care workers. The median wage for child care workers in 2019 was $11.65 an hour, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. Their legislation would require wages and benefits to be comparable to local public school teachers with similar training and experience. It would also put money into training and professional development similar to the military child care program. 

The bill's sponsors say financial services company Moody's Analytics estimates the program would cost the federal government $70 billion per year, or roughly $700 billion over a decade. They're proposing the plan be paid for by Warren's proposed ultra-millionaire tax. Economists from the the University of California-Berkeley previously estimated that tax would generate an estimated $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years.

Warren and Jones' proposal shares the same goal as the Murray-Scott Child Care for Working Families Act released last week, but Warren's includes early childhood education for all children, regardless of parents' work status.  

The Murray-Scott plan aims to make child care affordable for families, while expanding options for preschoolers through partnerships with states. It would also expand options for child care outside traditional work hours, include grants to cover costs for new providers, and increase wages for child care workers, among other things. 

Their plan would cap spending for child care at 7% of family income for those making less than 150% of their state's median income. Parents in school, on medical leave or seeking work and caregivers in several other situations would also be eligible for subsidies. Families making less than 75% of the state median income would not pay anything for care, while families earning above 75% of the state median income would pay their share on a sliding scale.