There was real hope for parents when President Joe Biden outlined the legislative framework he called Build Back Better Plan: a fundamental restructuring of child care, federally paid leave on the table in a major way for the first time, and the continuation of life-saving child tax credit payments that lifted millions and millions of children out of poverty. One of the biggest draws of the legislation was the promise to change the childcare industry fundamentally and for the better. The child care system in the United States was already inadequate before the pandemic: hard to access, expensive, and running on paper-thin profit margins. But then the pandemic broke the child care system in half.
While in the American Rescue Plan, President Biden signed over nearly $40 billion to help shore up the child care industry, more long-term help was needed. And that’s where his child care plan came through. Though it failed to pass, and the Build Back Better Plan remains in tatters, a new, slimmed-down child care plan could actually happen if it’s included in a future reconciliation package. Here’s what to know.
The Build Back Better Plan’s $400 billion promise to ”rebuild the backbone of the country” included several vital points that aimed to be the “most transformative investment in children and caregiving.” It included universal, free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, and investments into child care that would ensure middle-class families don’t pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care. The plan also would have subsidized the industry to create more centers so more families could have more access to affordable child care.
So, the Build Back Better plan was stalled mainly at a time when more American families needed all the help they could get. And it wasn’t clear if or how the Biden Administration could push forward with a plan that looked even remotely like the robust transformative legislation.
But now there is some hope that at least some child care help was on the way. Per reporting from Politico, Senate Democrats have overhauled the child care proposal to move forward some of the administration’s child care plans at a much lower price point than the $400 billion plan.
Senate HELP Chair Washington Democrat Senator Patty Murray and Virginia Democrat Senator Tim Kaine have overhauled the child care proposal in hopes it will be more favorable for those who didn’t support the initial Build Back Better plan, including Manchin, when a new spending or reconciliation package is debated. While it won’t fix everything that’s wrong with child care, it would be a much-needed lifeline to an industry that drives the rest of the economy.
“The child care sector is on the brink of collapse and we have to act now to save it,” Murray said in a statement. “I’m fighting to get this done because the painful reality is that this crisis will only worsen unless we deliver strong, sustained child care funding through reconciliation.”
The new proposed package would be part of a future spending bill and is far less than the initial plans, but at least it’s something — and it would address low wages
The new proposal would cost roughly between $150 and $200 billion and would include the following:
- $72 billion to the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for more child care subsidies ($18 billion of which would be used to improve child care facilities, raise wages, and scale-up infrastructure)
- $18 billion to a new grand program to help states expand access to pre-Kindergarten
- $12 billion to the Head Start program to raise wages for teachers through the six years
- An additional $50 to $100 billion on a CCDBG pilot program that would cap child care expenses at 7 percent of a family’s income for families making up to 250 percent of their state’s median income
The plan seems like a scaled-down version of the original Build Back Better, and while it’s not going to give American families everything they need, it’s at least something. But will it pass? It’s hard to know for sure.
In order for it to move forward, it would only need a simple majority again. But it also means Manchin or Sinema would need to support the bill. So just because the numbers are there and it should be a swift and straightforward pass, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it’s going to plan out. But for American families struggling, let’s hope that’s the case.