Congressional Democrats’ plan would try to go to the root of the problem by ramping up federal spending for child care centers. But they face objections from the left and right — from the right for ramping up spending too dramatically, and on the left for not extending generous enough coverage.
The plan has a few key policy planks. First, it promises to fund preschool for low and moderate-income families when their children are ages 3 and 4. It would then make federal law that no low-income family — those earning below 150 percent of their state’s median income — would have to spend more than 7 percent of its income on child care. (The bill would provide federal subsidies to child care centers to help parents meet these costs.)
“Families would pay their fair share for care on a sliding scale, regardless of the number of children they have,” a factsheet of the bill says.
The bill would also create new regulations for federal child care centers and increase pay for child care workers. (CAP says current child care workers only earn an average of $22,000 per year.)
A source close to the bill said that an analysis from an independent researcher and New York University fellow, Ajay Chaudry, suggested it would cost around $60 billion annually. An estimate from the Congressional Research Office found that 24.2 million kids would be eligible to receive child care under the bill — a 13-fold increase from the 1.8 million who currently receive assistance.
Republicans would almost certainly uniformly reject this expansion in government spending, and it’s not clear all Democrats would support it, either. (There’s no pay-for in the bill; President Barack Obama failed in 2015 to pay for a new child care program by ending 529 college savings programs.)
Meanwhile, some progressives argue that if Democrats are drafting up their ideal plan, they should get rid of all the cost-sharing in the bill altogether.
“This kind of intense means-testing of child care benefits is pointless,” said Matt Bruenig, an analyst at the left-wing People’s Policy Project, in an email. “Child care is a universal issue that strains the budgets of nearly all families, not just those with incomes below 150 percent of the state median.”