Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) reintroduced a $700 billion plan on Tuesday to make child care more affordable for families and establish a universal child care program over the next decade.
The proposal would create a network of child care centers so that everyone, regardless of income, can have access to quality child care. It would also make child care free for those who make below two times the federal poverty line, and would ensure that no low- and middle-income families have to pay more than 7 percent of their income for public child care. Warren has previously unveiled a version of the plan in 2019, when she was campaigning for president.
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act was introduced by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-New York) in the House. According to a Warren press release, it has been co-sponsored by a number of progressive members of Congress, including Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ro Khanna (D-California).
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The reintroduction came just before President Joe Biden released his American Families Plan, which many Democrats have been hoping to influence by introducing legislation in the past weeks. Biden’s plan also incorporates the provision to ensure families don’t have to pay more than 7 percent of their income for child care — the affordability benchmark determined by the Department of Health and Human Services — but doesn’t go as far as Warren’s proposal.
Warren argues that her child care plan could fit into Biden’s larger infrastructure plan. “For parents to be able to go to work, they need access to high-quality, affordable, dependable child care,” said Warren at a press conference for the bill. “And yet, in the same way that our infrastructure system in America — roads and bridges — is crumbling, our child care system is on the brink of complete collapse.”
Child care costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a month for families in the U.S. and is out of reach for many low-income families. An Economic Policy Institute report in 2015 found that, in 33 states and Washington, D.C., the cost of infant care is more than the average cost of in-state tuition for four-year programs at state colleges.
Research shows that early childhood education is vital for the long-term success of a child, which means that children from low-income families are at a disadvantage before they even reach grade school if their families can’t afford high-quality child care. “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,” reads the press release on Warren’s bill.
The child care system was already strained before the onset of the pandemic, but coronavirus and subsequent economic downturns have stretched the system even further as many child care centers shut down. This especially affects women, many of whom have been held back from professional development due to barriers to child care access.
According to the Warren press release, Tuesday’s bill would help relieve much of that strain on women and could help boost the economy. Providing universal, affordable child care could narrow the gender pay gap and increase the number of women with young children working full time by 17 percent, according to a recent study.
“Now is the time to think big and bold to tear down the inequities working mothers and other parents face, and to tear down barriers to quality early education proven to set children up for long-term success,” Wyden said in a statement. “If we want to recover from the economic catastrophe of the last year, America needs a $700 billion investment in families by making affordable child care a reality for everyone.”
Though the plan would cost $700 billion over the next 10 years, it could be paid for four times over by Warren’s wealth tax on “ultra-millionaires” and billionaires that she introduced last month, reads the press release. This would fit in with Biden’s plan to tax corporations and the rich in order to pay for his infrastructure proposal, though he has previously rejected the idea of using a wealth tax to fund the plan.