The Senate, in a near unanimous vote (88-1), approves a $12 billion bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the federal low-income child care program that will improve services for low-income working families.
The new legislation (S 1086) is the first time the rules governing the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) have been reauthorized since 1996. This updating would cover the next six years. CCDBG discretionary child care spending has grown from $2.1 billion in FY 2010 to $2.36 billion in FY 2014. The new legislation would authorize $2.4 billion in FY 2015 in discretionary funding, rising by FY 2020 to $2.7 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that S 1086 will cost $12 billion over the 2015-2019 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts.
Only one in six eligible children gets subsidized child care. Advocates noted that six million infants and toddlers are spending a significant portion of their day — and therefore time when development is being influenced — in child care; 63 % of mothers with infants are in the labor force and the cost of infant child care varies anywhere from 25 % to 69 % of a single mother’s median income.
An earlier version of the bill passed the Senate in March, and on Sept. 15 the House passed a compromise version that won bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress.
The legislation updates the program so that states will have to conduct background checks on all childcare providers receiving the grants and perform at least one annual inspection of licensed CCDBG providers. It also allows states to use some federal funds to promote nutritional and physical education for children in the CCDBG program.
Leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee applauded the bill. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), ranking member on the Senate HELP Committee and likely chairman of the panel when the new Congress convenes in January, says the childcare block grant program is “enormously successful.”
“It doesn’t mandate from Washington; it enables from Washington,” Alexander says. “Mothers, themselves, when they are choosing daycares, ought to be able to make that judgment.”
Advocates also welcomed the bill.
“We commend the inclusion of a set-aside specifically targeted to improving the quality of care for infants and toddlers, which signals a growing recognition of the importance of the first three years in preparing children for success in school and life,” says Matthew Melmed, executive director of Zero To Three, an early child care advocacy group.