WASHINGTON (AP) – Women – and some men – in Congress have been fighting for government help with child care for nearly 80 years. With President Joe Biden’s $ 1.85 trillion social service package, they’re closer than ever to winning.
And it’s not just child care subsidies. Biden’s bill that would be passed by Congress would put the United States on the right track to provide free preschool, paid family time off to care for sick children or loved ones, and a tax credit for sick children. children improved as part of a massive expansion of federal support for working families.
Overall, this is the Democrats’ response to President Richard Nixon’s veto on a 1971 child care bill and the earlier World War II daycare abolition, potentially offering families more time. government assistance than ever before, as many struggle in the wake of the COVID -19 pandemic.
“I think COVID has really illustrated to people just how broken our child care system is in a way people have finally understood,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat with two young people. children.
Biden’s big bill combines a series of long-sought Democratic goals to strengthen families that have already been tempted to meet resistance, as they still do today, with Republicans stranded against the package.
Child care subsidies would attempt to ensure that most Americans do not spend more than 7% of their income on child care.
And while Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act nearly 30 years ago to guarantee time off, the United States remains among a handful of wealthy countries that don’t offer paid time off for care. sick children or relatives. Biden’s bill would change that.
Overall, the federal government’s new programs for paid parental leave, child care, and an expanded child tax credit “would be quite a significant, if not historic, change in social policy and would expand its reach in social policy. the depths of how families adapt to the modern economy. “said Sarah Binder, professor of political science at George Washington University.
Long before child care began to absorb a significant portion of a family’s income and the COVID-19 crisis pushed women in the workforce to care for children at home, Congress tried reduce the costs of educating children in the United States.
About 80 years ago, Rep. Mary Norton of New Jersey – she was known as “Battling Mary”, the first Democratic woman elected to the House – was instrumental in raising funds for child care. during World War II when mothers went to work. But the program ended shortly after the end of the war and was never resurrected.
A quarter of a century later, Nixon invoked both communism and traditional female roles when he vetoed bipartisan legislation aimed at funding federal child care, saying it was ” radical ”and had“ implications for the family ”.
“We’re still fighting for this,” says Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a Connecticut Democrat who has been pushing for child care grants and other programs to help families since she was an assistant in the Senate in the 1980s. “There is no viable economy without a strong child care system. You can’t do it, okay? Because women are the anchor of the economy.
With opposition from the Republicans, the Democrats are attempting to pass Biden’s bill on their own in what has become a messy and exhausting process. A conservative Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, does not fully agree with parental leave and some other proposals, leaving their final inclusion uncertain.
Like Nixon 50 years ago, Republicans fear that providing an expanded federal safety net for American households with children is a slippery slope towards a socialist-style system.
Republicans say the costs of the programs – nearly $ 400 billion for child care and preschool alone – are far too high and would create more government intrusion into the lives of families.
Echoing Nixon’s words, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s approach “radical” in a Senate speech last week. McConnell said the Biden administration “wants to fit into the most intimate family decisions and tell parents how to take care of their little ones.”
But women who have championed family-friendly federal policies, many of whom ran and were elected in part because of their experiences as parents, say times have changed.
Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., Who was first elected three decades ago and remembers voters asking her what she would do with her children if she won, says the country has moved on ever since Nixon suggested that community support would upend the traditional family structure.
“There are more women in Congress, there are more women at work, there are more families who must have this income in order to be able to put food on the table, to send their children to university,” said Murray.
The House bill would phase in the new three-year child care entitlement program, starting immediately for preschool for families earning their state’s median income. Enrolled families would receive grants to be used at participating facilities, which could range from daycares to home daycares.
The program would eventually expand to families earning 250% of that median income by 2025, giving the childcare industry time to thrive after the pandemic forced many layoffs and closings.
States would decide whether they wish to participate in the program. Some advocates of the child care policy fear that Republican states will withdraw for political reasons, which means fewer Americans will have access to it.
The provision of childcare is closely linked to the universal preschool option, and states would be encouraged to enroll in both.
Duckworth said it had become clear to her the debate had changed, particularly after the pandemic, after her office was approached by restaurateurs and other businesses in her state – “not exactly a bunch of Liberals “- who said childcare support was crucial in getting their employees back to work.
“Child care is a central part of our economic infrastructure,” said Representative Katherine Clark, D-Mass., The assistant speaker who helped negotiate the care arrangements.
While the paid vacation portion may not go through an equally divided Senate between parties where every vote is necessary, Democrats say all the pieces together would be transformative not just for women, but for all families.
Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, says the United States has historically not been helpful to women, but it has a chance to change course.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric about families and everything, but it’s BS,” Hirono said. “So now we’re finally at a precipice where we can provide that kind of support.”
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