Photo courtesy of Compass Family Services
Compass Children's Center in San Francisco offers child care to homeless and other families.

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The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 makes major strides to address the urgent climate crisis and address soaring inflation.

However, through the process of congressional compromise and political give and take, an important group of Americans was lost in the text of the final legislation: young children and their parents and caregivers. Though it was originally included in the Build Back Better legislation, funding for child care was eliminated from the final reconciliation package.

Rising costs, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and demand that exceeds supply have frayed an already fragile child care sector. Although access to safe, affordable child care is essential infrastructure that impacts all Americans, regardless of whether they have young children, the existing federal and state early learning and care programs only reach a fraction of income-eligible families. In the meantime, child care providers continue to be underfunded and understaffed, and there is no clear plan to address systemic barriers that limit families’ access to high-quality care.

Despite the challenging economic climate, the United States must invest in child care now. Families are struggling with the cost of food, rent and gas. They can’t afford the high cost of child care, either. Child care costs amount to nearly 10% of the average family income, or 40% higher than what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines as affordable. Lower-income families spend an even higher percentage of their income on child care.

This isn’t a new problem. Historically, the federal government has never adequately funded early learning and care. According to the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks third to last (ahead of only Cyprus and Turkey) when it comes to the percentage of gross domestic product public spending for families and young children. We came close to a national child care plan in 1971 with the Comprehensive Child Development Act that would have created publicly funded child care centers across the country, but President Richard Nixon vetoed it. Even though there is strong bipartisan support for child care among voters and legislative leaders, passing universal child care has not been a priority for Congress.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the fragile nature of the infrastructure that supports children and families in the United States. As many families experienced during the pandemic, child care programs and schools were closed for months. The hardship on parents and children was immeasurable. Parents at every economic level were without child care and unable to work, leading to lost wages and financial struggle. Children also suffered greatly throughout the pandemic without access to in-person learning and social interaction with their peers.

Quality care ensures that children receive critical academic and socio-emotional support in their early years and that they arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. It also results in a better-prepared workforce, a more stable society and a country that is well-positioned to compete in a global economy. With adequate child care, more parents — especially mothers — will return to work, expanding the workforce and contributing to a thriving economy. All Americans have a stake in this.

President Joe Biden originally proposed $400 billion for early child care and preschool in Build Back Better. We call on the Biden administration and Congress to pick up where the Inflation Reduction Act left off.

Fund early childhood education and child care facilities for American families as Build Back Better originally intended. Investing in child care as infrastructure is a national imperative given its potential to improve child development and health, women’s employment, business productivity and overall economic growth. Prioritizing our young children is an investment in our future.

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Ruth Fernández, who has a doctorate in education, is the executive director of First 5 Contra Costa, which helps young children in Contra Costa, California, start school healthy, nurtured and ready to learn. Savitha Moorthy, who also holds a doctorate, is the executive director of Tandem, Partners in Early Learning, a Bay Area nonprofit working at the intersection of social justice and early childhood education.

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  1. Richard Golfer 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I was thrilled to see the Build Back Better bill go down in flames. The House bill was full of "free stuff" that would have just added more debt to the already bloated federal deficit. This wasteful BBB bill, had it passed in the Senate as written, would have sent monthly checks to every family for each child, $300 for children under the age of 6, and $275 a month for those 7 to … Read More

    I was thrilled to see the Build Back Better bill go down in flames. The House bill was full of “free stuff” that would have just added more debt to the already bloated federal deficit. This wasteful BBB bill, had it passed in the Senate as written, would have sent monthly checks to every family for each child, $300 for children under the age of 6, and $275 a month for those 7 to 17. Only 40% of US households have children under the age of 18, I should mention, so while all this money would be flowing into households where their were children under the age of 18, unmarried single people and seniors would have gotten nothing from the BBB bill.

    The bill also mandated the federal government pay stipends to workers who needed to take a month off to take care of a sick child, or a sick husband or wife, or take care of a elderly parent that is having health problems. All you would have needed to qualify for a month off from work – a paid vacation on top of your regular paid vacation, was a letter from a Doctor, which would be easy to get (recall these quack doctors in California and other states a few years back who wrote Cannabis prescriptions for 100 dollars a pop). Another example of waste was all this money pouring into early childhood education.

    Study after study has shown pre-school education has minimal impact on how kids do later in K thru 12 schools. When I was a kid in the 60’s they were no pre-schools at all, yet kids did better academically then than kids do today. The BBB bill would have also, had it passed, would have raised the cost of existing pre-schools substantially. The education labor unions, who were behind this plan to earmark billions more for preschools you saw in the BBB bill, would have gotten heavily involved organizing all these new pre-school teachers, which would a have led to soaring salaries and pensions for preschool teachers.

    Simple common sense tells you an individual with a high school diploma, and maybe a class or two in early child education at a community college, has the tools to teach three year olds. We don’t need 100K a year teachers for three year olds. As things stand now pre-schools teachers are not unionized, therefore the cost of pre-schools is more affordable. The women quoted in this story mean well, clearly, but this view t that they have that the we need to spend billions on pre-school education is just ridiculous.

    Had the BBB bill passed we would have poured billions of taxpayers dollars into our existing pre-school infrastructure. Arguably this massive funding would have had little impact on our children’s school test scores, all you would have seen with this extra funding is soaring pre-school salaries and pensions. I don’t have a problem at all with billions being spent on state colleges, or community colleges, you get a lot of bang for your buck with colleges – we need trained workers, of course, this is the path to the middle class – but pouring money into pre-schools is just plain dumb, you are flushing money down the toilet stupidly and needlessly.