Bipartisanship is increasingly rare these days, but even before the pandemic, child care was an issue that could reliably, occasionally, bring legislators together. According to First Five Years Fund, Republicans and Democrats alike introduced nearly 150 early learning bills in 2019. Here are three examples, now largely forgotten in the chaos of COVID-19.
Iowa’s Joni Ernst (a Republican) and Nevada’s Jacky Rosen (a Democrat) co-sponsored the Small Business Child Care Investment Act, which would make many nonprofit child care providers eligible for all Small Business Administration capital access programs.
Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) co-sponsored the Child Care Protection Improvement Act, intended to assist states in the process of implementing background check requirements for child care workers.
David Trone (D-MD) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA) co-led a group of legislators calling for greater Head Start funding in a letter requesting support that would “keep pace with the rising costs of strengthening communities.”
Tragically, the bipartisan spirit that briefly took hold of Washington in late March—with the passage of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act—largely bypassed child care. CARES included $3.5 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program and $750 million for Head Start programs to respond to the needs of children and families, but experts were virtually unanimous in their insistence that this was a woefully inadequate response. The pandemic continues to short-circuit child care businesses in every state, making it nearly impossible for them to pay rent and make payroll. The consequences remain dire for every kind of workforce.
Enter Child Care Relief, a broad coalition dedicated to “securing critical relief from Congress for the industry that keeps America working.” The idea for a campaign was conceived of by First Five Years Fund, working closely with the Center for American Progress and the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the alliance comprises 20 organizations with a diversity of viewpoints and representing a range of stakeholders.
Across the country, parents are struggling to balance work and #childcare. We need immediate financial relief to help our children, our parents, and our economy: pic.twitter.com/Wrt2DaWYYE
Bipartisanship is the name of the game. “Support on both sides of the aisle has grown exponentially,” Joughin says. “Legislators are sticking their necks out on this issue, because they understand the impact on kids and families, but for the workforce, too.”
Indeed, there has been some movement beyond such reliable advocates as Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.; who, among others, has championed #ChildCare4All) and Reprentative Rose DeLauro (D-CT), founder and chair of the Congressional Baby Caucus. In July, 41 House Republicans called for dedicated federal relief for child care providers. In their letter they noted that “even prior to COVID-19, many families often struggled to find care for their children, particularly in rural areas, and the pandemic has further jeopardized an already precarious industry and threatens to eliminate what few options are available to parents.”
Whether it’s worries about deficit spending or the presidential election heating up, relief for this vital industry has failed to materialize.
The landscape changes daily, and Joughin isn’t making any predictions, but he notes that many Republicans are committed to prioritizing child care, and regards $15 billion as the floor for negotiations around child care funding in the next relief package.
Joughin notes that, with every other industry simultaneously fighting for the same pot of Congressional funding, advocates need to continue pushing their case throughout the fall. “Our role is to maximize reach so that we can stay competitive with other industries that have a much larger influence on Capitol Hill,” he says. “Speed is of the essence.” Expect poll numbers in support of child care to come out in time for the presidential debates.
“We’re here to leverage the collective voices, knowledge and reach of our partners,” Joughin summarizes. “Our work has been exhausting, but also energizing.”
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.