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America’s child care system is in crisis. Joe Biden will soon release a plan to fix it.

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The industry was already a mess. Then the pandemic struck.
Voght, Kara
Publication Date: 
12 Jun 2020


Joe Biden is planning to unveil a comprehensive child care proposal in the coming weeks—part of a broader program to resuscitate the economy that the former vice president previewed earlier this month. The precise details of the new plan are still under wraps, but it will be a part of a “caregiving workforce” initiative intended to tackle home care for the elderly and disabled, paid family leave, and fair wages for caregivers. The plan comes on the heels of a proposal from House and Senate Democratic leaders to create a $50 billion bailout fund for child care providers who, like many other small businesses, have struggled to survive the pandemic and the recession.

For a long time, child care had been a policy backwater among lawmakers in both parties. But over the past few years, a growing consciousness around economic, racial, and gender justice has brought it to the fore. And now—in the midst of a global health crisis and economic meltdown that has exacerbated inequality—Biden’s proposal could give child care policy a moment that advocates have long sought.

“It’s been decades of fighting to make child care similar to the position that health care and higher education hold,” says Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union.

“What this moment is showing us is that the economy does not work without child care.”

Child care policy hasn’t gained much traction at the federal level since the early 1970s, a time when many women began to challenge traditional gender roles and enter the workplace in larger numbers. In 1971, both chambers of Congress passed a universal child care bill that would have created a network of federally funded care centers with fees based on income. President Richard Nixon had initially shown an openness to the plan, but got cold feet and vetoed the bill because of its “family-weakening” implications.

Nearly 50 years later, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used the 1971 legislation as the framework to develop her own child care plan. In early 2019, she proposed that the federal government would partner with local daycare facilities to offer care from birth until children start kindergarten. No family would pay more than 7 percent of its income, and families earning below 200 percent of the federal poverty line would pay nothing at all. Under her plan, 12 million children would get access to formal child care, more than double the number who currently receive it.

The timing, specificity, and ambition of Warren’s proposal set her apart from both her fellow 2020 contenders and pretty much every Democratic presidential candidate in history. In 2016, Hillary Clinton didn’t unveil her child care proposal—which would have capped a family’s expenses at 10 percent of household income—until she’d all but secured the Democratic nomination. Even then, it wasn’t something voters responded to. “When Hillary talked about child care and even paid leave, I don’t think there was the public response to it that you’re used to on a campaign for high-priority issues,” recalls Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and a longtime Clinton adviser.

Entered Date: 
17 Jun 2020
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