CHN: Bipartisan Agreement for Long-Awaited Child Care Bill
A bipartisan group of senators and representatives announced their agreement on legislation to reauthorize the federal low-income child care program on September 12. The new legislation 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.
Funding for child care grants to states is split between mandatory (not subject to annual appropriations) and discretionary (needing annual funding approval) sums. The mandatory portion has been set at $2.9 billion for many years. Discretionary child care spending has grown from $2.1 billion in FY 2010 to $2.36 billion in FY 2014. Only one in six eligible children gets subsidized child care. The new legislation would authorize $2.4 billion in FY 2015 in discretionary funding, rising by FY 2020 to $2.7 billion. As authorized levels, they set a ceiling of what appropriators can approve, but do not force them to provide the total allowed. Many programs receive less than the authorized level, and in an era of discretionary spending caps, there will be pressure to appropriate less.
One of the main features of the legislation is its focus on improvement in the quality of child care. Similar to legislation enacted in the Senate in March (S. 1086), child care providers receiving CCDBG funding will have to meet health and safety standards, with annual inspections, required criminal background checks for staff and mandated child abuse reporting. Funding must be set aside to provide training for child care workers. Child care advocates and service providers have long strongly favored such improvements. They also recognize that if the funding increases proposed are not actually appropriated, the quality improvements will result in fewer child care placements being funded. Inadequate funds have resulted in the number of children getting child care slots declining from 2.5 million in FY 2009 to 2.1 million in FY 2013. Nevertheless, the new agreement is an important first step towards improving child care. It is now expected that the new bill will be taken up in the House and Senate before the Congressional recess, before some of its key champions, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA, Ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee) retire. Advocates are hopeful that the bipartisan legislation can make it to the President’s desk.