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In the shadow of the pandemic, there is positive and welcome progress in federal investments in child care. 

One example of this positive trend is the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (also known as the omnibus bill) that President Biden signed into law at the end of last year.

“The appropriation for fiscal year (FY) 2023 included more than $8 billion in total annual discretionary funds for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in addition to increases for other important child care and early education programs such as Head Start,” the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) explains.

“The FY 2023 CCDBG appropriation of $8 billion represented a $1.9 billion increase above the previous year’s funding, a 30 percent increase. This is the second largest increase in discretionary funding in the history of CCDBG—following the $2.4 billion increase in FY 2018.”

Specifically, this funding helps low-income families who would otherwise struggle to afford child care.

 “The increases in 2023 for each state range from $2 million in Vermont to $209 million in Texas.”

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“Last week, while history was being made on the floor of the House of Representatives, a (mostly) quieter, but no less historic event was happening in the Democratic cloak room.

“Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) brought his 4-month-old baby to work. In between votes, he changed diapers on the Democratic cloak room floor and bottle-fed his child. And Gomez wasn’t the only one on daddy duty in the House. Other parents — including Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) — brought their children to work as well. Yes, it was adorable and brightened up an otherwise dour C-SPAN feed. But the tweets about bringing babies to work, swapping parenting tips and taking breaks to feed and change also highlight a problem that is no stranger to the vast majority of this country’s parents.

“Child care is out of reach for many families in America. For most, it is too expensive and too hard to access. Parents, early learning providers and program administrators are overwhelmed, overburdened and under-resourced — and everyone is feeling the impact. Even our members of Congress.”

“America 2023: When even members of Congress don’t have child care,” by Michelle McCready, The Hill, January 9, 2023

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The pandemic wiped out part of Massachusetts’ child care workforce.

Now Boston is trying to rebuild.

And the scale of this challenge is substantial.

“The childcare industry in Massachusetts lost about 10% of its workforce since the start of the pandemic,” WBUR radio reports. “In Boston, that’s translating into long wait lists and shorter hours of care. According to city officials, about 50 early education classrooms are sitting empty because child care centers can’t find enough people to operate at capacity.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu “was quick to point out that the estimate doesn’t include centers that have had to cut hours because they’re short staffed.”

To address this daunting gap, the city is using $7 million from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act to launch the Growing the Workforce Fund.

The fund will provide scholarships and financial aid to 800 students who want to earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

“Today’s investment is a welcome one for early educators like me,” Lisa Brooks, an early educator at Horizons for Homeless Children, says in a city press release. “Relieving the burden of debt associated with higher education will help educators continue to focus on the important work of building the foundation for our students’ future success.”

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U.S Capitol

Photo: Thuan Vo from Pexels

Last fall, excitement buzzed around the federal Build Back Better bill. It was a sweeping social spending bill that promised to make a historic investment in early education and care, including universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and more affordable, high-quality child care.

The bill was passed in the House. Excitement grew. But in the Senate, Build Back Better faced opposition it could not overcome.

What emerged months later was a compromise – the Inflation Reduction Act – which had no funding at all for early education and care.

A Hechinger Report article sums up the field’s reaction: disappointment and determination.

“ ‘It’s heartbreaking,’ Julie Kashen, a senior fellow and director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation, said, while also noting the need to build upon some of the positive publicity that came out of the protracted battle. ‘Child care has become a national issue in a very powerful way. We are closer than we had been in 50 years,’ she said. ‘What else can we do but continue to fight?’ ”

“That’s why Kashen is already looking to what’s next: boosting a national movement and building a web of advocates who help keep child care needs front and center for legislators and businesses. ‘Employers must speak up so people understand that this is not a family problem, it’s an economic issue, and it is something Congress has to act upon,’ Kashen said.”

Mark Reilly has a similar response: Seize the momentum and move forward.

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Advocates have long called for early education and care to be treated as a public good – just like public schools or the infrastructure of roads and bridges needed to maintain a 21st century workforce. We are grateful for the close collaboration and appreciate the decisions our elected officials have made to support and stabilize the early education and care sector over the last two pandemic years.

While the worst may be behind us, we’re not out of the woods yet. This election year is especially important as we move towards sustainability and growth.

So please be a Champion for Young Children! Here’s how:

As a Voter

• REGISTER: If you are new to voting in U.S. elections, you have recently moved to the state of Massachusetts, or you simply need to update your registration information, visit the Online Voter Registration System. The voter registration deadline is Saturday, October 29, 2022.

• Learn about with your district and elected officials. Every 10 years, districts for members of Congress, the State House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the Governor’s Council are re-drawn by the Legislature. This process happens after each federal census in order to make sure each district is made up of approximately the same number of people. Learn more about redistricting in Massachusetts here.

• Learn about the candidates. Click here for the full list of state election candidates.

• Engage Candidates and Community: Ask questions about their education platforms and/or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper urging candidates to prioritize young children in the election. If you need assistance, contact Marisa FearStrategies for Children’s associate director of research and policy.

• VOTE on (or before) Tuesday, November 8th! Click here for early voting information and instructions on how to vote by mail. Plan ahead for in person voting by looking up your poll place and election information.

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“Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday announced a $53 million program to deliver bonuses to 22,000 child care workers at licensed facilities in Kansas.

“Child care workers will receive a one-time payment between $750 and $2,500, depending on the hours they work, in late July. The governor said the appreciation bonuses are ‘a reward for their incredibly hard work.’

“ ‘Child care providers have faced unbelievable challenges during the last two-and-a-half years,’ Kelly said. ‘Yet they’ve continued to fulfill their critical role in caring for kids. Their work is essential to the social and economic well-being of our state.’

“The $53 million program is paid for with federal funds, the governor said. The bonuses will be administered by Child Care Aware of Kansas.”

“Kansas to give child care workers $53M in appreciation pay,” by Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector, June 21, 2022 

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”We write today to share the challenges the ECE sector continues to face and to request that Congress rally behind the new Murray-Kaine ECE proposal and invest a minimum of $200 billion in the reconciliation bill to ensure that high-quality early education and care delivered by well-compensated educators is available and affordable for all Massachusetts families.

“The system for providing care and education for our youngest learners was broken even before the pandemic. In order to provide high-quality programming in enriching learning environments, providers need to make costly investments in building infrastructure, classroom materials, and the workforce. Yet, programs cannot squeeze more out of families who are already struggling to afford care and the voucher system does not compensate programs for the true cost of that care.”

“Since March 2020, 1,359 programs in the Commonwealth have closed, representing 17% of all programs in the state and 23,395 slots for children. Data from January of this year reveals that 60% of programs reported reduced enrollment driven primarily through staff shortages, and 69% of programs reported educator openings.”

“At this crucial moment where transformative investment is within reach but uncertain, we request that you ensure that ECE is included in the reconciliation package and that it includes a minimum investment of $200 billion into the early education and care system.”

— A letter to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation signed by 182 advocacy organizations, business associations, foundations, higher education institutions, school districts, and child care providers from 94 communities across the state, including Strategies for Children, June 10, 2022

To learn more, check out CLASP’s “Impact of Murray-Kaine Child Care & Early Education Proposal” 

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April 6, 2022

Dear President Biden:

“We write to thank you for your commitment to cutting the cost and increasing the supply of high-quality child care for families across the country.”

“As you know, the high costs of child care and the difficulty of finding quality, affordable child care are challenges facing too many families across the country. The annual price of center-based child care for an infant exceeds the annual cost of in-state tuition at a public four-year university in every region of the country. In addition to overwhelming costs, approximately 460,000 families are without reliable child care because the child care sector has lost over 1 in 9 jobs since the start of the pandemic.”

“Now is the time to make additional comprehensive, long-term investments in affordable, high-quality child care to build on the critical but largely short-term investments made through the American Rescue Plan.”

“It is clear that child care and early learning investments are an integral part of our nation’s strategy for supporting a robust economy, lowering costs for families, and ensuring the long-term success of our children.”

Sincerely,
Katherine M. Clark, Member of Congress
Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator
Tina Smith, United States Senator
[And 150 other Members of the U.S. House and Senate]

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Ever feel like you would enjoy having inspiring, high-powered friends who believe fiercely in high-quality early education and care?

Look no further than U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and the advocates and leaders from the field who testified last week at a special hearing on child care held by the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP).

The video and testimony transcripts are posted here.

Murray opened the proceedings with a smart, sweeping, we-have-got-to-do-better speech.

The economy, she said, “isn’t just about numbers on a page and whether they go up or down. It’s about people across the country and whether they can get what they need, whether they can take care of their loved ones, and whether things are working for them and their families.”

And one thing families – and the economy – need is child care.

“So in short,” Murray added, “we’ve got an affordability problem, child care shouldn’t be an extra mortgage; a wages problem, child care workers are leaving the field for higher paying work; and an options problem, there just aren’t enough providers… This is not just terrible for parents and kids, but for our economy as a whole.”

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“Let’s provide investments and tax credits to… cut the cost of child care. Many families pay up to $14,000 a year for child care per child.

“Middle-class and working families shouldn’t have to pay more than 7% of their income for care of young children.

“My plan will cut the cost in half for most families and help parents, including millions of women, who left the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t afford child care, to be able to get back to work. 

“My plan doesn’t stop there. It also includes home and long-term care. More affordable housing. And Pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old.”

“Remarks of President Joe Biden – State of the Union Address As Prepared for Delivery,” The White House, March 1, 2022

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