WASHINGTON (AP). Women – and some men – in Congress have been battling for government childcare assistance for nearly 80 years. With President Joe Biden’s $ 1.85 trillion social services package, they are closer to winning than ever.
And it’s not just childcare subsidies. Biden’s bill, passing through Congress, will put the United States on the path to providing free preschool education, paid family leave to care for children or sick loved ones, and an extended tax credit for children as a result of massive increases in federal support for working families.
Taken together, it is Democrats’ response to President Richard Nixon’s veto of the Child Care Bill of 1971 and the earlier abolition of World War II childcare centers, potentially giving families more government assistance than ever as many struggle in the wake COVID. -19 pandemic.
“I think COVID really showed people how broken our childcare system is and people finally understood,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat with two young children.
Biden’s big bill combines a number of Democrats’ long-standing family-strengthening goals that have previously only tried to push opposition, as they do today as Republicans keep pace with the package.
Childcare subsidies will try to ensure that most Americans do not spend more than 7% of their income on childcare.
And although Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act nearly 30 years ago to guarantee time off, the United States remains among a handful of wealthy countries that do not offer paid leave to care for children or sick loved ones. Biden’s bill will change that.
Overall, the federal government’s new paid parental leave, parenting, and extended child tax credit programs “are going to be a pretty significant, if not landmark, change for social policy and expanding it to the depths of how families cope with modern economy. – said Sarah Binder, professor of political science at George Washington University.
Long before childcare began to consume a significant proportion of family income and the COVID-19 crisis forced women to quit their jobs and take care of children at home, Congress tried to reduce the cost of raising children in the United States.
About 80 years ago, Rep. Mary Norton of New Jersey – she was known as “Fighting Mary”, the first female Democrat to be elected to the House of Representatives – was instrumental in providing money for childcare during World War II, when mothers went to work. … But the program was discontinued shortly after the end of the war and was never revived.
A quarter century later, Nixon cited both communism and traditional female roles when he vetoed bipartisan federal childcare legislation, claiming it was “radical” and had “family implications.”
“We’re still fighting for it,” says House Appropriation Committee chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who has pushed for childcare subsidies and other family assistance programs since she was a Senate aide in the 1980s. years. “You won’t have a functioning economy without a strong childcare system. You can’t do that, okay? Because women are the anchor of the economy. “
With opposition from the Republicans, the Democrats are trying to independently pass the Biden Act, which has turned into a dirty and grueling process. One conservative Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, does not fully agree with parental leave and some of the other proposals, leaving uncertainty about their final inclusion.
Like Nixon 50 years ago, Republicans are concerned that providing an extended federal social safety net for American families with children is a slippery slope to a socialist-style system.
Republicans say program costs – nearly $ 400 billion in childcare and early childhood education alone – are too high and could lead to more government intervention in families.
Echoing Nixon’s words, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s approach “radical” in his speech in the Senate Hall last week. McConnell said the Biden administration “wants to participate in the most intimate family decisions and guide parents on how to care for their babies.”
But women who have championed family-friendly federal policies, many of whom ran for office and were elected in part because of their parenting experience, say times have changed.
Senator Patti Murray, Washington, who was first elected three decades ago and recalls being asked by voters what she would do with her children if she wins, says the country has evolved since Nixon suggested community support would change traditional family structure.
“There are more women in Congress, more women at work, more families who have to have that kind of income to be able to feed the table and send their kids to college,” Murray says.
The House of Representatives bill will phase out a new childcare benefit program over a three-year period, starting with early childhood education for families earning their state’s median income. Enrolled families will receive grants for use in participating institutions, which can range from day care centers.
Ultimately, the program will extend to families who earn 250% of that median income by 2025, giving the childcare industry time to grow after the pandemic has caused many layoffs and closings.
States will decide if they want to participate in the program. Some proponents of childcare policy are worried that Republican states will ditch it for political reasons, which means fewer Americans will have access to it.
Childcare is closely tied to the universal preschool option, and states will be encouraged to enroll in both.
Duckworth said it became clear to her that the debate had changed, especially in the wake of the pandemic, after her office was approached by restaurant owners and other businesses in her state – a “not quite liberal group of people” – who said helping care for children is critical to getting their employees back to work.
“Childcare is central to our economic infrastructure,” said Rep. Catherine Clarke, Massachusetts, an assistant speaker who helped mediate the provision of care services.
While some of the paid leave may not go through the Senate, which is split equally between parties where every vote is required, Democrats say all the elements together will be transformative, not just for women, but for all families.
Senator Mazi Hirono, a Hawaii-based democracy, says the United States has historically not helped women, but they have a chance to change course.
“There is a lot of talk about families and everything else, but that’s nonsense,” Hirono said. “So now we are finally at the abyss where we can provide that kind of support.”