While much of the discussion around a second stimulus has focused on a new round of stimulus checks, extended unemployment insurance and additional small business loans, lawmakers in both parties are mounting efforts to help parents in need of child care services.
Included in the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act is a bill that would provide $15 billion to child care services. The U.S. House of Representatives has even broader ambitions, with multiple bills offering more than $60 billion in aid that received bipartisan support this week.
Here’s a look at the legislation.
Child Care Bills Designed for Working Parents
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, released his proposal for the HEALS Act on Monday. It includes various grants and programs aimed at supporting kids, jobs and health care.
Funding for child care services is included in the Coronavirus Response Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act. The bill would provide $10 billion in “back to work child care grants” to pay for fixed costs and increased operating expenses due to COVID-19, as well as to aid in creating a safe environment for children attending day cares. An additional $5 billion would go to child care providers who lost enrollment or had to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pressures of working full-time and educating multiple kids at home all at once are simply unsustainable over the long term,” Senate Committee on Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a statement. “We need to step it up for them.”
Meanwhile, the House this week passed two bills to provide over $60 billion in funding for the child care industry. The Child Care Is Essential Act creates a $50 billion fund to provide grants to pay for costs associated with opening and running child care facilities during the pandemic. The Child Care for Economic Recovery Act provides $10 billion in funding to help child-care providers reopen and improve their safety.
As Republicans, Democrats and the White House continue to negotiate the next stimulus package, all are intent on funding child care efforts, meaning we can likely expect to see aid make it into the final bill.
Child Care in the Age of COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has put a major strain on an already-struggling child care industry.
The CARES Act, passed in late March, included $3.5 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to help provide aid to child care providers and support the cost of providing child care for children of essential workers. But The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute, notes it isn’t enough to keep programs open after weeks of closures.
The Center for American Progress estimates half of the country’s capacity for child care, or 4.5 million child-care slots, would be lost if Congress doesn’t provide additional funding to the industry. States like Delaware, South Carolina, Utah and Florida could lose more than half of their child care slots without assistance.
“These potential closures add challenges to an existing child care crisis. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, slightly more than half of the country lived in a child care desert—defined as an area where there are more than three children under 5 for each licensed child care slot,” writes the Center for American Progress. “Child care providers typically operate on thin margins and struggle to stay in business if they are not consistently collecting tuition and/or subsidy payments for nearly 100% of children they enroll.”
Working parents also find themselves in the difficult reality of juggling around-the-clock childcare—which often includes helping children engage in their remote learning programs—with their full-time work commitments. Stories of burnout, and the uncomfortable reality of sending children back to child care while a deadly virus continues to rage on in the country, illustrate the pressure many working parents are feeling.
“We are not burned out because life is hard this year,” Deb Perelman wrote in a parenting essay that went viral for the New York Times. “We are burned out because we are being rolled over by the wheels of an economy that has bafflingly declared working parents inessential.”
Is More Paid Leave on the Table?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law in March, was created to expand paid leave options for employees from April through the end of this year. Its provisions worked together to provide up to 12 weeks of partial paid leave for individuals dealing with school or child care unavailability due to COVID-19-related reasons. But as the pandemic rages on and causes some states to revert back to their previous lockdown measures, those 12 weeks might not prove to be enough.
Individuals who haven’t used the available paid family leave yet provided under FFCRA have until the end of this year to do so. But more help may be coming.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has said he may offer additional paid family leave measures as an amendment to the final version of the second coronavirus stimulus package. Cassidy’s legislation would provide $5,000 in advance on the Child Tax Credit to cover costs after having or adopting a child. That advance could be used to replace income while taking leave from work or pay for child care for parents who return to work. An additional $1,500 would be provided to parents for the following 10 years.