POLITICS

The House Just Passed A Massive Child Care Rescue

The bailout would provide billions to prop up an industry that lawmakers are finally seeing as essential.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference on child care relief bills at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference on child care relief bills at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The House on Wednesday passed a massive child care bailout in the form of two bills that would provide billions of dollars for an industry that has been long neglected.  

All the Democrats in the House, along with 18 Republicans, voted in favor of the Child Care Is Essential Act, which provides $50 billion in immediate funding to child care centers. (Libertarian Justin Amash and 162 Republicans voted against the bill.) These in-home and center-based programs look after infants and preschool children and have been on the brink of collapse from almost the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

The second bill, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, provides more long-term relief for child care providers, offering funding to revamp center infrastructure to adhere to the more stringent health guidelines of the COVID era. The bill would also expand child care tax credits that parents can use, expanding coverage to middle- and low-income parents. The bill would provide $170 billion in funds over 10 years. All the Democrats again voted for this one, joined by 20 Republicans. Libertarian Justin Amash and 160 Republicans voted against the bill.

“We bailed out the airline industry. We bailed out banks, and now is our moment to be serious about child care and stabilize this piece of our economic infrastructure,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) told HuffPost Wednesday ahead of the vote. The Massachusetts representative has been calling for a child care bailout from the earliest days of the pandemic, when it became clear that the industry was going to struggle with closures, reduced enrollment and, eventually, the higher costs of operating in a pandemic.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.),  Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) were also instrumental in shepherding the bailout bills.

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) speaks at a news conference in the Capitol in Washington on Monday.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) speaks at a news conference in the Capitol in Washington on Monday.

Congress hasn’t come close to putting this much attention into child care since at least World World II, said Catherine White, director of Child Care/Early Learning at the National Women’s Law Center. Back then, the federal government actually funded day care centers so that mothers could work while men fought the war overseas. 

It seems once again that lawmakers are realizing that, without a stable child care system, Americans cannot work.

“This is really a landmark moment and reflects the growing recognition that child care has played for decades in underpinning our economy and is now really coming to light as a result of the pandemic,” White said.

While the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to pass the two bills as standalone legislation, there are signs that the party is coming around to the idea that child care is absolutely essential to a functioning economy.

Senate Republicans set aside $15 billion for child care providers in their latest COVID relief package — surpassing the $7 billion House Democrats put in the relief bill that passed in May.

Even before the pandemic, the privately run U.S. child care system was not doing all that great. Most providers operated on razor-thin margins. Child care workers, mostly women and nearly half women of color, make poverty-level wages. Parents still struggle to afford tuition for their kids — if they can even find a spot in a center.  

The coronavirus crisis, however, pushed the industry over the edge. Many operators shut down to deal with COVID-19 closures; others stayed open and had to deal with reduced enrollment and higher costs.  

Many centers have already shuttered permanently, and others are on the edge. Already, one in four child care workers has lost her job, according to one recent survey. That same survey found that 40% of child care providers said they would likely be forced to close without federal help.

In March as part of the Cares Act, Congress included $3.5 billion in grants to the states for child care relief. At the time, advocates said the money fell far short of what was needed. Child care centers needed $9.6 billion a month to stay alive in this crisis, according to one widely cited estimate from the Center for American Progress and the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Since then, more policymakers and even business groups have come around to the idea of a bigger bailout, recognizing that if workers don’t have reliable child care, they cannot work.

In June, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged Congress to include emergency assistance in its next rescue package.

The rescue package is also of critical importance to women, who are bearing the brunt of unemployment and child care during the crisis. If the child care industry doesn’t survive and many women can’t go back to work, it could set back decades of progress. 

“If we don’t invest, there’s going to be serious implications,” White said.

“Because as we observe the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote, ... we do have to recognize that for our economy to thrive, we have to have full participation and leadership of women,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), in a speech Wednesday about the legislation. “Because we do believe when women succeed, America succeeds. For that to happen — and dads have this responsibility, too, so we want them to succeed as well.”

Matt Fuller contributed reporting.

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