July 29, 2020

Events of the past few months have shown the need for policies to strengthen child well-being as thousands of youth across America marched and demonstrated as they challenged our systems of social, educational and economic justice.

Child care powers both family economic well-being and our national economic growth. Prior to the pandemic, federal funding only provided child care for one in six eligible children.  And parents in communities weighed down by poverty and systemic racism experienced a shortage of high-quality, affordable child care.

Today, we face a global pandemic that has disproportionately infected and killed people in these same struggling communities, and the child care crisis we had before is now much, much worse. Now, parents have lost millions of additional child care options, and providers confront new costs to keep children and workers safe, risking financial losses for businesses already operating on the knife’s edge of profitability.

In Illinois, nearly half of all previously available child care slots are at risk of disappearing altogether due to the pandemic, and sixty percent of child care programs are fully-closed. In Chicago, we did not have much to lose. Pre-pandemic, five out of six Chicago children lived in a “child care desert” where children outnumbered child care slots by 3 to 1, or more.

The high cost of quality child care disproportionately affects Black families because Black children are disproportionately likely to live in homes with only working parents, but Black working parents earn 40 percent less, on average, than white working parents.  For workers with low wages, work is impossible without child care subsidies, and difficult even with assistance. Latinx and Black workers are more likely to work nonstandard schedules than their peers, which often makes child care harder to find and more expensive.  Moreover, people of color are disproportionately represented in the child care workforce. About 40 percent of the child care workforce are people of color who are concentrated in low-level positions with lower credential requirements and relatively low pay. The child care workforce alone is 94% female and 40% persons of color. Latinas – who represent 15% of all workers – comprise 21% of child care workers, and Black women represent 15% of all child care workers. These data demonstrate that protecting the child care industry is key to both economic priority and racial equity.

As states lift stay-at-home orders and other economic restrictions, more parents are returning to work, if they can.  Quality, affordable child care is a cornerstone of parents’ ability to work and move up the economic ladder. I know essential workers who couldn’t work because they had no one to watch their kids. I know parents who have lost so much income that they can’t afford child care to work.

As a Black man living in Chicago, I have grieved at far too many funerals for friends lost to COVID-19, and I know far too many parents who legitimately fear for their family’s health when they return to work and their children go back to child care. When I see the devastation caused by this pandemic and the barriers to working due to child care, I am offended by claims that people will refuse to work because of the availability of supplemental unemployment benefits. This charge is simplistic, insulting, and refuted by data showing that low-wage workers stay at work and return to work even when faced with unsafe working conditions and inadequate wages.

As our nation grapples with structural racism, policymakers need to enact policies that support workers and address the barriers they face, taking care not to penalize communities weighed down by poverty and racism. Big challenges call for big solutions. Now is the time for this Committee and this Congress to take meaningful action to ensure that high-quality child care is available to all who need it.

The two bills before us today demonstrate Democratic commitment to growing our workforce and our economy by investing in families and in our child care infrastructure – both the people and the buildings. I am extremely proud to co-lead the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act and to cosponsor the Child Care is Essential Act.  Together, these bills parents afford and help businesses provide safe, quality child care. 

In addition to increasing the guaranteed investment in child care via the Child Care Entitlement to States funds to states from $2.9 billion to $10 billion for the next 5 years, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act helps ensure states can use these funds by waiving the requirement that states match the funds for the first two years.  The bill includes critical investments in child care infrastructure to help states and providers adapt, expand, and reconfigure child care facilities and infrastructure in response to coronavirus. Further, it helps qualified child care facilities weather the pandemic with targeted tax benefits to help cover rent, mortgage, and utility costs.

The bill also includes two bills I have championed to substantially help families afford child care.  One centers on providing targeted support to essential workers who need care for children or adults so they can work, and the other modernizes the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to provide tens of billions of dollars to help working family cover child care costs. Specifically, there is an additional $850 million in funding for the Social Services Block Grant to help essential workers pay for family care. Importantly, states can use the funding to support child care for any group of workers they deem essential for in-person work, including sanitation and public safety workers, grocery store employees and other workers designated by the state.  Further, the bill makes the full amount of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit available to more families by raising the current phase-out of $15,000 to $120,000, almost triples the maximum credit from $1,050 to $3,000 per child, and it ensures that families with the greatest need benefit by making the credit fully refundable.  

The Child Care is Essential Act creates a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund to help stabilize the child care sector and help providers reopen and operate safely.  These grants will support providers’ ability to maintain employee benefits and salaries; follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention health and safety guidelines in the classroom; train employees on health and safety standards; make mortgage, rent, and utility payments; and modify child care services as needed as a result of the pandemic. 

Substantively investing in child care is the right thing for our economy, the right thing for our children, and the right way to give everyone a fair shot in America.

You can view my amended floor speech here.