Padilla Pushes to Build Child Care Infrastructure and Availability

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), in reintroducing the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, a comprehensive and bicameral bill that will ensure that every family has access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning opportunities by establishing a network of federally-supported, locally administered child care options.

As part of a statewide infrastructure tour, Padilla visited Mission Kids, an early care and education center in San Francisco, to discuss the urgent need to invest in child care. An estimated 60 percent of Californians live in a child care desert, and struggle to find safe and affordable places to send their kids. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of affordable child care has kept more parents at home to watch their children, and in turn, slowed hiring rates across the country.

“It’s past time for our country to make critical, bold investments in child care,” said Senator Padilla. “For working parents, access to quality child care is just as critical as access to safe roads and reliable broadband. I’m proud to join Senator Warren and Congressman Jones on this important legislation that invests 700 billion dollars of federal funding to ensure that every family can find and afford high-quality child care. The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act will not only strengthen our families, it will also benefit our entire economy.”

“We must invest $700 billion to fix our broken child care system and ensure that women and families are not left behind in our recovery. Our legislation would guarantee all parents affordable access to safe and nurturing child care and early learning opportunities for their kids,” said Senator Warren. “Expanding quality child care would create jobs, increase productivity, and have lifelong benefits for children’s development and growth.”

“Today, in more than half the states in America, a year of child care costs more than a year of in-state college tuition,” said Representative Jones. “In Westchester County in my district, center-based care for an infant costs $21,000/year — nearly the entire annual income of a family living at the federal poverty line. Our childcare system is deeply broken, and those who can least afford it are paying the highest price as a result. If we want a country, and an economy, that works for all Americans, we need universal child care. We need the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act. Our bill would transform child care as we know it in America by making it free of cost for families at or below 200% of the federal poverty line and capping costs at 7% of household income for families making more. As we work to Build Back Better, advancing universal child care is essential to ensuring an equitable and just economic recovery for all communities, which is why I’m proud to introduce this critical legislation.”

The American Rescue Plan included more than $40 billion for child care programs, fulfilling much-needed emergency relief funding. However, it is not a long-term solution to the lack of affordable, high quality child care for working families. Child care providers, who already operated on razor-thin margins, have experienced closures, reduced enrollment, and increased operating costs throughout the pandemic. By one estimate, the combined relief funds are enough to fill this revenue gap for less than six months.

The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act would have lasting positive effects, not just on children and families, but on the economy at large. A recent study from the National Women’s Law Center and the Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that providing affordable, high-quality child care to every family that needs it would increase the number of women with young children working full time by 17%, narrow the pay gap between women and men, and increase women’s lifetime earnings by nearly $100,000 on average, with a corresponding increase in their savings and Social Security benefits.

Lack of access to high-quality, affordable child care prevents parents from fully participating in the workforce, holding them back from career and educational opportunities and placing a drag on our entire economy. Lack of affordable, high-quality care also means many children in the U.S. start kindergarten without the skills they need to reach their full potential.

The legislation would fund a system of locally-run, affordable, and high-quality child care programs inspired by the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1971, which was vetoed by President Nixon. The lawmakers’ proposal builds on the successes of both the federal Head Start program and the U.S. Department of Defense military child care program. 

The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act:

  • Ensures universal access: This legislation provides a mandatory federal investment to establish and support a network of locally-run Child Care and Early Learning Centers and Family Child Care Homes so that every family, regardless of their income or employment, can access high-quality, affordable child care options for their children from birth to school entry.  
  • Guarantees affordability: Families below 200% of the federal poverty line (about $53,000 for a family of four) could access these child care options at zero cost. Families with higher incomes would pay a subsidized fee on a sliding scale based on their income, as in the military child care program. No family would pay more than 7% of their income for these public child care options.  
  • Invests in child care workers: The legislation ensures parity by requiring that wages and benefits for child care workers be comparable to those of similarly-credentialed local public school teachers, and invests in worker training and professional development modeled after the military child care program.  
  • Includes pre-Kindergarten educational services: The network of Centers and Family Child Care Homes would provide pre-K curriculum and educational services for children before they enter kindergarten. This legislation would also incentivize states and cities to expand their investments in early childhood education.  
  • Builds on existing programs: The legislation builds on the successful federal Head Start program to create a universal system for families that cannot access Head Start services, while preserving the Head Start program for families eligible for those services. It also maintains the Child Care and Development Fund to help low-income families access other care options, including extended hours and afterschool care for children up to age 13.  
  • Establishes Universal Child Care without increasing the deficit: After accounting for the economic impacts of this legislation, Moody’s Analytics estimates that the program would cost the federal government approximately $70 billion per year or $700 billion over 10 years. Senator Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax is projected to raise more than four times that amount of revenue over the same period. Consequently, if Congress funded this program using revenue from Senator Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax, the program would not increase the deficit.

The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act has been endorsed by the National Women’s Law Center; the Center for Law and Social Policy; the National Education Association; the American Federation of Teachers; the Service Employees International Union; Zero to Three; Save the Children; All Our Kin; the Coalition for Social Justice; Community Change Action; and Neighborhood Villages; Mass. Senate President Karen E. Spilka; Mass. Speaker Ron Mariano; Mass. State Senator Adam Gomes, Hampden District and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities; Mass. State Senator Jason Lewis, Fifth Middlesex District and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education; Mass. State Representative Mike Finn, 6th Hampden District and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities; Mass. State Representative Alice H. Peisch, 14th Norfolk District and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education; Early Education for All (Massachusetts); and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

A copy of the bill can be found here.

A one-pager on the bill can be found here.