For families across the U.S., finding quality childcare that's affordable has become a nearly impossible task.
In 28 states and the District of Columbia, infant care costs exceed the average cost of in-state college tuition at public four-year institutions, shows data collected by Child Care Aware of America, a non-profit organization focused on improving the affordability of childcare in the U.S.
And childcare costs have increased 24 percent in the past decade, according to Federal Reserve data analyzed by The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute focused on promoting economic mobility. The average bill for a year of full-time care now amounts to almost $9,600, according to the New America Foundation.
Meanwhile real wages haven't budged, according to the Pew Research Center, which found that after adjusting for inflation today's average salary has about the same purchasing power as it did 40 years ago. This mismatch puts huge financial strain on working parents leading them to take on a stay-at-home role, dial back retirement or emergency savings, or rack up credit card debt to afford such a necessity.
But Democrat Washington Sen. Patty Murray wants to change that.
On Tuesday, she re-introduced the Child Care For Working Families Act, which aims to create a federal policy that will provide high-quality affordable child care to all parents.
The proposed legislation centers on a cap on the amount families pay out of pocket for childcare. No parent would pay more than 7 percent of their household income for childcare, if they earn less than 150 percent, or one and a half times, their state's median income.
For instance, the median household income in Florida is $52,594, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Under this bill, families in the Sunshine State with less than $78,891 in household income will be eligible for the cap and pay no more than $5,522 for childcare. Considering the average cost for full-time center-based annual care for an infant tops $9,000, according to Child Care Aware of America, that could amount to thousands of dollars in savings.
"This bill is big and it's bold," Murray said at a press conference about the act held on Tuesday. "It will ensure that no parent has to pay more than they can afford on child care, at most middle class parents would pay 7 percent of their income on childcare, but parents who make less, pay less. In fact, some parents will pay nothing at all. Our bill helps expand options for childcare in the summer and during nontraditional hours when quality care is even harder to find."
The Child Care For Working Families Act was first introduced on Sept. 14, 2017, but the Democrats' proposal met with little support in the then-Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate, despite Republicans introducing paid family leave legislation that year and Ivanka Trump's own push for an expansion to the child tax credit.
But now that Democrats are the majority in the House, it seems Murray feels more optimistic about the bill's fate, saying during the same press conference that the act currently has support from 35 senators and almost a 100 members of the House.
She also tweeted: "There are few issues that unify Democrats, advocates, and families like child care—and that is one reason why every one of our colleagues currently running for president has joined our bill as cosponsors. We hope that support translates into a commitment to solve our country's child care crisis now or in the first 100 days of the next administration."
If the bill became law, it would not just limit childcare costs for many families. It would also provide universal access to high-quality preschool programs for all 3 and 4-year-old children. Finally, the bill would improve training and compensation for child care workers, ensuring that their salaries are on par with elementary school teachers that share the same credentials.
"As anybody whose looked for childcare knows, teachers come and go far too often to have that security that we need that when we take our kids to daycare or childcare they have the same person there. That's a result of pay. And we've got to address it," Murray said during the press conference.
The increase in needed skilled childcare workers will also create more than 700,000 jobs, Murray continued, and allow 1.6 million parents to return to work.
"With their children receiving topnotch care, working parents will be empowered to reach their fullest potential," Murray said.
A report by the Center For American Progress backs her argument, finding that about 2 million parents with children 5 years old or younger made huge career sacrifices, such as quitting a job or not accepting a new position, because of problems with childcare.
Murray did not not outline where the funding for this bill would come from or the expected costs associated with helping offset childcare costs for families, create universal preschool access and increase childcare worker's pay.
Advocacy groups have previously called the legislation a step in the right direction, and the NGO Save the Children, the non-profit Child Care Aware of Washington, the Center for American Progress and the education campaign Make It Work all showed support for the bill when it was first introduced.
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