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How the 116th Congress Supported Child Care

The 116th session of the United States Congress, convened in January 2019, faced some of the most difficult challenges in recent memory. Despite these challenges, the bipartisan split – Republicans leading the Senate and Democrats leading the House – meant that members had to work across the aisle to reach solutions to the problems facing America’s children and families. Fortunately, child care emerged as one of the areas with the strongest bipartisan support, which led to numerous legislative proposals and increases in appropriations for these critical programs.

As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation in early 2020, much of the focus within Congress shifted towards how to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic. Democrats and Republicans alike recognized the essential nature of child care in recovering from the devastating economic and social impacts the coronavirus had on our country. For more on how leaders worked to sustain the child care industry and support working parents, read our explainer.

Below is a list of key proposals to improve child care in our country that garnered bipartisan support in the 116th Congress, as well as a description of the appropriations Congress provided for federal child care programs, including emergency aid to address the COVID-19 crisis.

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Legislative Proposals

  1. Apprenticeships are a compelling option for states to strengthen the early childhood workforce, by combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training and mentorship to create a holistic, earn-while-you-learn approach. Bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate, The Early Educators Apprenticeship Act, was introduced to help states establish apprenticeships specifically for the early childhood profession.

  2. Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships have been funded since fiscal year 2014 to support both the expansion of traditional EHS and the establishment of partnerships between EHS providers and local child care programs. The EHS-CCP program demonstrates that when the federal government gives adequate resources, flexibility, and clear accountability standards, local communities will step up to the challenge. By including strong language in appropriations legislation directing HHS to continue prioritizing the needs of infants and toddlers and their families through this program, Congress clearly showed intent to build upon the success of the initiative.

  3. Requirements for expanded background checks under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reauthorization of 2014 are critical for protecting the health and safety of children, but more than five years after CCDBG passed, states are still struggling to implement these background checks. BPC has long called for more information and guidance, paired with additional oversight and accountability, to help states reach compliance. Legislation in both the House and Senate, the Child Care Protection Improvement Act, was introduced to address these needs. The legislation passed both chambers and was signed by President Trump on December 31, 2020.

  4. The bipartisan Investing in your Family’s Future Act was introduced in February 2020, an innovative proposal that would give businesses greater flexibility to support their employees and provide working parents with more resources to address growing child care expenses. Specifically, the legislation would allow businesses to count child care expenses as an employee’s required match for employer-sponsored retirement accounts.

  5. The Small Business Child Care Investment Act was introduced in September 2019 by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), and in the House in February 2020 by Reps. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Pete Stauber (R-MN). This bipartisan legislation levels the playing field for non-profit and for-profit child care providers by giving them equal access to Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. Currently, non-profit providers are at a significant disadvantage when looking to open and operate a successful business as they are ineligible for most programs.

  6. In July 2020, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee introduced the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act which includes several policies intended to help spur long-term economic growth by improving the child care market. Specifically, the legislation increases mandatory funding for the Child Care and Development Fund (the mandatory portion of CCDBG) up to $10 billion annually; establishes a new investment of $10 billion in child care infrastructure and facilities through 2024; creates new tax credits; and, expands and enhances the CDCTC, CTC, and flexible spending accounts. Though this legislation was introduced during the height of the pandemic as a way to recover from the crisis, these policies would have positive long-term implications for the child care market, working parents, and our broader economy.

  7. Child care programs’ facilities and infrastructure have been overlooked at the federal level for too long. An HHS OIG report found that 96% of child care programs receiving CCDBG across 10 states had one or more potentially hazardous conditions. The Child Care is Infrastructure Act represents a starting point for bipartisan conversations around how to support the infrastructure of child care facilities to improve child safety by offering infrastructure grants for child care programs to improve the physical conditions of their facilities.

  8. In September 2020, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Bob Casey (PA), and Sherrod Brown (OH), introduced the Rebuilding a Better Child Care Infrastructure Act. This legislation would double mandatory funding for CCDBG through 2025; create pandemic child care assistance grants through $10 billion in mandatory funding in FY 2021 to address child care needs; and provide $15 billion in mandatory funding for FY 2022 to improve supply, quality, and affordability in areas where supply does not meet demand for child care. Though this legislation was partly intended to help recover from the pandemic, it would authorize several important programs that would help to improve the system long into the future and should be a basis for bipartisan conversations in the future.

  9. The early childhood workforce is plagued by low wages and a lack of benefits, and workers rarely receive support for obtaining credentials or a higher education. In fact, the early childhood workforce is often ineligible for many benefits other similar industries may receive. Two programs included in the aforementioned Child Care is Infrastructure Act—Early Childhood Educator Loan Assistance Program and Grants for Early Childhood Educators—would help recruit and retain high-quality staff and make the profession more attractive.

  10. The bipartisan Child Care is Economic Development Act of 2020 is a creative solution for addressing child care shortages. The legislation would require applicants for certain Public Works and Economic Development Grants to include, in their economic development strategy, ways in which their proposal would directly or indirectly increase the accessibility of affordable, quality child care. The legislation passed the House under Suspension of the Rules in November 2020.

Appropriations and Emergency Aid

  1. The FY 2020 appropriations package showed a bipartisan commitment from members of Congress to increasing access to high-quality child care for more working parents around the country. On December 17, 2019, a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the Fiscal Year 2020 federal spending bills was announced. Included in this deal was an increase of over $1 billion for federal early care and education programs, including $550 million for both CCDBG and Head Start, and an additional $25 million for Preschool Development Grants. In addition to funding levels, there were several exciting policy provisions in the legislation.

  2. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was signed into law, which included $3.5 billion in supplemental FY 2020 appropriations for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus. This funding represented a 60% increase in total discretionary appropriations for FY 2020, which amounted to $9.326 billion. This funding was considered as emergency funding and though it was authorized through CCDBG, the CARES Act included flexibilities intended to help states distribute the funding to those families and child care programs in the greatest need. Each state then took a variety of approaches when allocating their CARES Act CCDBG funds.

  3. Legislation for the FY 2021 appropriations package passed in December 2020, which continued the bipartisan commitment to child care programs. Specifically, the legislation included: $5.911 billion for CCDBG, an increase of $85 million; $10.748 billion for Head Start, including for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, an overall increase of $135 million; and $275 million for Preschool Development Grants, no increase over FY 2020. The legislation also included a $10 million increase for 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

  4. In December 2020, Congress came to a bipartisan agreement on another major COVID-19 emergency relief package to address the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. To help meet the needs of families and child care providers, the legislation included $10 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and retained the important flexibilities from the CARES Act, intended to help states distribute the funding in an expeditious manner to the families and child care programs in the greatest need. The legislation also added new provisions, such as reporting requirements to allow oversight of these funds. In total, Congress provided $13.5 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations for CCDBG during 2020 to help respond to the pandemic, more than double what the program has ever received in any fiscal year.

The work of the 116th Congress shows the clear bipartisan support that exists for improving child care programs, policies, and funding levels. As we move into the 117th Congress, members on both sides of the aisle should work together to build on these actions and activities by continuing to prioritize improving child care for working parents, their children, and our economy.

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