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Childcare worker

Child care worker Debbie James-Dean uses a feather duster to tickle Aubrey Albritton, 16 months, as she goes over the color 'green' during an activity at a Kids Are Us Learning Center in Washington, D.C., on Friday, March 24, 2017. James-Dean has been working in the field for nearly 20 years and earns $12.75 an hour. (Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Advocates Slam $0 for Child Care in Manchin Anti-Inflation Package

"It is a complete shame that the Senate's Inflation Reduction Act does not include inflation-fighting funding for child care."

Julia Conley

Advocates for children and parents on Friday highlighted what they say is a major oversight in the Inflation Reduction Act, the climate and tax bill introduced this week after months of negotiations between Sen. Joe Manchin and Democratic leaders, as the package included no funding to help shore up struggling child care facilities across the United States.

"There is unanimous frustration that Congress continues to push child care to the side, threatening small businesses, keeping parents out of the workforce and putting childrens' development at risk."

The child care crisis, already looming before the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, forced an estimated 9% of U.S. child care centers to close permanently as of October 2021 as chronically low pay has pushed workers out of the industry, operating costs have gone up due to inflation, and attendance has been unpredictable due to Covid-19.

Despite the rippling effects the crisis has had throughout the economy—with parents forced to leave their jobs or change their work schedules to accommodate child care needs, amounting to $9.5 billion in lost earnings and placing a burden on employers—the struggles of the child care providers and parents were not addressed in the bill unveiled by Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—and backed by the White House.

"It is a complete shame that the Senate's Inflation Reduction Act does not include inflation-fighting funding for child care," said Michelle Kang, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), noting that early versions of the Build Back Better Act last year raised hopes in the industry that lawmakers would provide badly needed child care emergency funds—before Manchin announced in December that he would not support the package.

"In my conversations with early childhood educators, families, and business leaders, there is unanimous frustration that Congress continues to push child care to the side, threatening small businesses, keeping parents out of the workforce and putting childrens' development at risk," said Kang.

The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, provided an historic investment of $24 billion for the child care sector, but those funds are scheduled to expire in September 2024—leaving the industry with "a potential fiscal cliff of $48 billion," according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

As NAEYC reported in a February 2022 study called Saved But Not Solved, 75% of child care providers say that without more federal funding, the expiration of the stabilization grants would be devastating to their programs, and one-third of early childhood educators say they are already struggling to keep their facilities open and will leave or close their programs by the end of 2022.

"The Senate must pass a reconciliation package that includes inflation-fighting funding for affordable, quality child care and early learning, to lower costs for families, and raise wages for providers," said Kang. "Millions of women, families, and educators are watching—and waiting—for Congress to act and solve child care before it's too late."

Manchin drew condemnation last year as he pressured his party to sharply reduce the Build Back Better Act, refusing to back a paid family leave policy and the extension of the enhanced child tax credit, which helped millions of families last year afford child care costs, groceries, and other essentials—even telling colleagues that he opposed the latter because he believed parents would spend the money on drugs.

By leaving child care funding out of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), MomsRising CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner told Forbes on Thursday, the right-wing West Virginia senator is continuing to show hostility to the needs of parents and children.

"It's been a long, arduous journey to the budget reconciliation bill," said Rowe-Finkbeiner. "Despite some important advances, lawmakers have a lot of work still to do for our country's women and families."

Acknowledging that the IRA included badly needed investments in sustainable energy infrastructure and health coverage and provisions to ensure corporations pay more in taxes, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Congress will fall short if it makes no effort to invest in child care.

"We absolutely have to deliver on these critical priorities," said Murray, "and I'm committed to doing exactly that and passing this legislation as quickly as we're able to."

"But at a moment like this, when child care is already really unaffordable and too hard to find for so many families, with our child care sector on the brink of collapse—and now with Republicans forcing women to give birth no matter their circumstance—it is even more urgent we lower child care costs," she said. "The simple reality is that if we don't act now, the child care crisis will only get worse."

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