The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills that provide over $60 billion in direct funding for the child-care industry in an effort to help providers nationwide reopen and improve the safety of their programs during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a vote Wednesday night, the House passed the Child Care Is Essential Act on a bipartisan basis, 249-163. The legislation creates a $50 billion fund to provide grants to help pay for personnel, sanitation, training and other costs associated with reopening and running a child-care facility amid the pandemic.
The $50 billion in funding will be administered through the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which is typically used to funnel federal funding into child-care subsidies for low-income families with children under 13. Under the new legislation, child-care providers can apply for emergency assistance regardless of whether they had previously received funding through CCDBG, opening up the funding to a wider pool of applicants.
The House also passed on a bipartisan basis the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, which is designed to provide funding to help child-care providers reopen and improve the safety of care facilities going forward. The bill allocates:
The Child Care for Economic Recovery Act also includes provisions that indirectly support child care overall, such as amending the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and rules around dependent care flexible spending accounts. Changes like these may help more families afford child care if they can access additional financial support.
The bill also includes $5 million for the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Administration Matching Grant Program to help lower-income families get assistance with their tax preparation.
"We cannot assume that business can go on as usual if we don't meet the needs of working parents," Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said during a press conference Wednesday. When reporters started to ask questions pertaining to other news items, Sanchez interrupted to ask that they stick to the topic of child care. "I get so tired of everyone wanting to talk about deals and red lining and not talk about what's relevant to the majority of families in this country," she said.
"[Child care] was an emergency before, it's critical now," Sanchez said. "If people think it's not a problem, they're not living the reality of American families where both parents have to work or there's only one parent who has to support the household or they're grandparents raising children because of drug overdoses."
Wednesday's House vote is separate from the $15 billion that Republican Senators earmarked for child care under the HEALS Act on Monday night. The Republican legislation would provide $5 billion to child-care providers through CCDBG, as well as $10 billion to fund "back to work child-care grants" aimed at helping qualified child-care providers pay for increased costs and operating expenses associated with re-enrolling children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this year, Congress allocated $3.5 billion in emergency funding to the CCDBG in the CARES Act. That funding was not only to help support providers that may be struggling with low enrollment or closures related to the coronavirus, but the legislation stipulated that it could be used to help emergency responders and other essential workers pay for child care.
Wednesday's passage of the Child Care Is Essential and the Child Care for Economic Recovery Acts comes at a time when schools around the country are proposing full or partial remote learning for the fall. Roughly 50 school districts nationwide — including some of the nation's largest, like New York City — that combined have over 2 million children enrolled, have announced they'll be using a blend of remote learning and part-time classroom instruction heading into the fall semester, according to Education Week, which has been tracking school reopening plans from districts as they are announced.
As of July 28, about 90 districts have opted to return full-time while nearly 140 say they'll be completely remote. Just over 50 districts remain undecided. So far, Education Week sourced plans for roughly 330 school districts out of 13,000 nationwide.
Schools opting for remote learning put pressure on parents to figure out how to balance work and child care. It's no surprise that a recent Care.com survey found that 65% of 2,000 parents surveyed say they'll need additional child care when their kids go back to school.
However, 47% of working families have lost the child care they used before the pandemic, according to a June report from the University of Oregon's RAPID-EC Research Group. Of families using child-care centers, 60% reported losing their provider.
About 21.5 million workers in the U.S. have a child under 6, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And many of those parents have been forced to balance work responsibilities with simultaneously caring for their children, with varying degrees of success. During the pandemic, mothers with children under 13 have reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers, according to an academic study released in July that has not yet been peer-reviewed. The analysis estimates this has led to a 20% to 50% increase in the gender gap in terms of work hours.
A June survey of working parents showed that 33% report that at least one partner has either left the workforce or dropped down to part-time, according to a poll conducted by parenting benefits startup Cleo of 136 of its customer families with young children. The poll, while perhaps not demographically representative, found that of parents giving up their work, 70% were women.
"We are not going to reopen this economy if there isn't a substantial child-care investment," Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a sponsor of the Child Care is Essential Act, said Wednesday. "We're going to take every opportunity to make sure the Senate gets it across the finish line as well," DeLauro says, adding that child care "is not a partisan issue."
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