Activists gather in D.C. to advocate for sweeping federal care legislation

Activists gather in Washingon, D.C. to advocate for sweeping federal care legislation on February 28, 2023.

(Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Caring Across Generations)

Congress Takes Recess as Childcare and Health Center Funding Cliffs Loom

"Healthcare for so many people, most of whom have limited resources and are struggling with chronic health conditions, is critical and cannot lapse."

More than 3 million kids across the United States could lose childcare and nearly 7 million patients could lose access to primary care if Congress doesn't approve funding by September 30.

But lawmakers in both the House and Senate left town for August recess late last week after making little noticeable progress toward averting the looming care funding cliffs and keeping the federal government open.

Unless Congress acts by the end of September, the government will shut down—a potential outcome that Republicans are using as leverage to pursue painful spending cuts to education, childcare programs, environmental protection, and more.

The Senate is set to return from recess on September 5 and House lawmakers will be back in Washington, D.C. on September 12, leaving them with little time to prevent disaster.

The Century Foundation warned in a recent report that roughly 3.2 million children could lose their childcare spots—and more than 230,000 childcare workers could lose their jobs—if Congress allows emergency funding provided under the American Rescue Plan to expire without any additional investments.

In a memo released last month, the National Women's Law Center and other advocacy organizations called for an investment of at least $16 billion per year to "stave off shrinking childcare spots, staffing shortages, and rising prices that will disrupt both families and our economy writ large."

"Allowing the [American Rescue Plan] supplemental funding to expire without providing new childcare funding would mean fewer families eligible for childcare assistance, more eligible families on the waiting list for assistance, more burdensome copayments for families receiving assistance, and stagnant or reduced payments to childcare programs," the groups said.

The potential lapse of childcare funding has sent states scrambling to prepare.

Last week, Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers delivered an address warning that if the state Legislature doesn't act quickly, "2,110 childcare programs could close their doors, we could lose over 4,800 childcare jobs, and over 87,000 children could be left without care" once American Rescue Plan funding runs out.

"That would be a catastrophe for our state's economy, workforce, and businesses, potentially causing about half a billion dollars in economic impacts across our state," Evers said.

Advocates and progressive lawmakers are also sounding the alarm over the possible expiration of community health center funding at the end of next month.

While the House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed legislation that would boost health center funding by $4.2 billion annually for the next two years, the Senate has yet to reach an agreement.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, wants to go further. Last month, Sanders introduced legislation that would invest $20 billion over a five-year period into expanding community health centers—which provide care to around 30 million people nationwide—and boost funding for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers.

As The Washington Postreported Tuesday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)—the top Republican on the Senate HELP Committee—"slammed [Sanders'] proposal as 'partisan legislation that cannot pass the Senate.'"

"Sanders wound up canceling a planned markup of his bill," the Post added. "Instead, he pledged to work with lawmakers on the committee—such as Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.)—to have legislation ready by the first week of September."

The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) recently estimated that "almost 7 million patients will lose access to care if Congress does not extend health center funding."

"Healthcare for so many people, most of whom have limited resources and are struggling with chronic health conditions, is critical and cannot lapse," Rachel Gonzales-Hanson, NACHC's interim president and CEO, said in a statement last month.

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