President Barack Obama’s January 20th State of the Union address was met with cheers from advocates for children and parents across the country. Why? Because his plan emphasizes the importance of policies that support American families, particularly those that would expand access to high quality child care, establish mandatory paid sick and family days for workers, raise the minimum wage, and make community college free for most students.
On February 2, the White House released President Obama’s Budget Proposal, which reaffirmed his commitment to “helping working families afford the cornerstones of economic security: child care, college, health care, a home, and retirement.”
As a brief from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) stated, the components of President Obama’s plan “encompass a thoughtful and timely package – not simply a laundry list – to help poor and low-income families lift themselves into the middle class… [They] embrace a two-generation approach to addressing poverty that recognizes the importance of supporting both parents and children.”
President Obama’s Plan for Child Care
President Obama has long included early education on his political agenda, but his proposals have tended to focus on expanding preschool for 3 and 4 year olds. However, his State of the Union address and budget proposal also highlighted the need for affordable, high-quality experiences for even younger children. They argued that child care for infants and toddlers must be a national priority, as it allows parents to participate in the workforce and lays the groundwork for children’s long-term success. As President Obama said, “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”
The President included a number of specific policy proposals that would support this priority, and a White House Fact Sheet released the day after the State of the Union address expanded on these proposals:
- Investing in the Child Care and Development Fund to help low- and moderate-income families afford high-quality child care. The Child Care and Development Fund helps families afford the high cost of child care, and increases the accessibility and quality of child care programs. The President’s proposal would guarantee that by 2025, families with incomes below 200% of the poverty line and with children under three years old would have access to a child care subsidy so that they can work or attend school, affecting 1 million children.
- Tripling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC). Under the President’s plan, families would receive a tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year, to help pay for child care costs. Furthermore, the tax credit would also be extended to middle-income families, who are currently excluded from receiving the maximum credit.
- Helping states design programs to “better serve families that face unique challenges in finding quality care,” like non-traditional and unpredictable work hours. The President has pledged to invest $100 million in new competitive grants to states to develop innovative programs that can be evaluated and implemented on a larger scale.
- Improving child care quality. This proposal would help states implement new reforms from the recently reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a piece of legislation aimed at improving the quality of child care programs and providers.
Why Does This Plan Matter?
Improving preschool access for three and four year olds is increasingly becoming a priority for many states – a laudable goal. However, President Obama’s plan also addresses the needs of children who are even younger: the infants and toddlers across the country whose parents are struggling to afford high quality child care.
That the cost of child care is high for working families is indisputable. A report released in late 2014 by Child Care of Aware, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, showed that child care often exceeds the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation or food. For low-income families, paying the full cost of care is next to impossible: the average annual cost of center-based care for an infant is almost half of the yearly income for a family of three living at the poverty level.
It shouldn’t be this way. The first 1,000 days of a baby’s life are crucial for brain development: in that time period, the brain produces billions of cells, and hundreds of trillions of synapses between these cells. Investing in these early years has huge payoffs later in life, both for the individual child and for society in general. Therefore, as President Obama recognized in his State of the Union address, helping parents access and afford high quality, nurturing environments for their children is a critical national interest.
Finally, we recognize that child care providers are not given the credit, or the wages, that they deserve. As a recent report from UC-Berkley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Worthy Work, Still Unlivable Wages, argues, building a skilled early childhood workforce will be impossible without dramatically increasing the wages that child care providers and other teaching staff currently receive. It is our hope at All Our Kin that President Obama’s plan for affordable, high-quality child care is a sign that child care providers will finally be acknowledged and appreciated for the hard work they do every day.
Other Components of Obama’s Plan
President Obama’s plan as outlined in his State of the Union and budget proposal also laid out a number of other policies to support working families. It includes incentivizing states to develop paid family leave programs; making two years of community college free for all students who maintain decent grades; decreasing unemployment by expanding job training and workforce development programs; ensuring that women and men are paid the same wage for doing the same work; and raising the minimum wage.
In the next few weeks, Congress will respond to the President’s budget proposal and describe its own vision for the national budget. It is our hope that Congress will seriously consider investing in the policies President Obama described to support families, particularly those related to improving and expanding affordable child care.