Sen. Elizabeth Warren will reintroduce a proposal for universal child care early next week that would devote at least $700 billion over the next decade to revamping the nation’s decimated child care infrastructure.
That level of investment has support from seven other senators, who signed onto a letter — first shared with The 19th — that calls on the Biden administration to include the historic child care commitment in its next big spending bill, the American Families Plan.
“President Biden has a historic opportunity to not only help our country recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but also to build a stronger caregiving economy,” Warren told The 19th. “We can’t just tinker around the edges: $700 billion over ten years is what it will take to fix our broken child care system and ensure that women and families are not left behind in our recovery.”
The American Rescue Plan, which passed last month, put $40 billion in emergency funding to stabilize existing child care facilities. Details are still forthcoming about President Joe Biden’s next proposal. The White House has indicated it would call for $225 billion to expand early child care and an additional $200 billion for universal pre-kindergarten. Biden’s jobs bill would also put $25 billion toward child care, the administration has indicated.
That’s insufficient, argue the letter’s signatories, who include Democratic Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota, Alex Padilla of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent. Another 35 House Democrats also signed on, including Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the assistant speaker in the House of Representatives.
“We believe this is a generational opportunity to invest in affordable, quality care for all children who need it, and we urge you not to let it go to waste,” the authors wrote.
The goal of Warren’s bill is to guarantee universal child care — a proposal that, per independent assessments, Biden’s proposed amount would not come close to achieving.
Warren’s bill will not be the only Democratic plan: Sen. Patty Murray also reintroduced a child care proposal last week. Both plans would cap what families pay out of pocket for child care — no more than 7 percent of the family income — and would improve child care workers’ wages and benefits.
The key differences are that Murray’s bill would build upon the government’s existing child care funding streams and would target working families specifically. It would cost slightly less: $600 billion over 10 years, rather than $700 billion. Warren’s would hire more providers to build out a new, larger child care network with the aim to cover all the nation’s children.
Still, both proposals call for a far larger investment than what the administration has thus far indicated it will seek. And while as a candidate Biden endorsed improved wages for child care workers, as well as capping what families spend on child care, he hasn’t indicated if those policies will appear in his forthcoming American Families Plan, which may be laid out in next week’s address to a joint session of Congress.
Universal child care was a key issue in Warren’s 2019 presidential campaign. Last summer, she called for child care to be treated as a top government priority in a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Child care, which the Biden administration is now arguing is a key part of American public infrastructure, has historically been neglected by the federal government. In 2018, half of all families lived in areas without sufficiently available child care, per a report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
The coronavirus crisis only added to the challenge. In the past year, temporary shutdowns meant child care facilities, which already operated on razor-thin margins, lost revenue and had to invest additional resources to reopen safely. Those financial challenges meant more facilities closed their doors.
The loss of child care facilities drove as many as 700,000 parents out of the workforce. The impact has been especially severe for women, who more often take up child care.
Child care workers, who are predominantly women of color, are paid on average less than $13 an hour. The majority rely on public assistance, including Medicaid and food stamps. About 1 in 5 child care jobs disappeared from February to August 2020, per the National Women’s Law Center — and it’s not clear if all of those jobs have come back.
The pandemic has unearthed the need for dramatic change, the senators’ letter argues.
Research suggests that a national child care infrastructure would particularly affect working women, who were hardest hit by the coronavirus recession. A March paper from the National Women’s Law Center suggested that, if all families could access high-quality child care, women’s lifetime earnings would go up by an average of $100,000 and the number of young mothers working full time would increase by 17 percent.
“The American Families Plan presents an historic opportunity to not only recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but also to build a stronger caregiving economy for women and families across the country,” the lawmakers wrote.