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In a Divided Congress, Bipartisan Vote Shows Senators Working together for Children

Child Care

Last week, the Senate passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S.1086), sponsored by Senators Burr (R-NC), Mikulski (D-MD), Alexander (R-TN) and Harkin (D-IA), with an overwhelmingly positive 96-2 vote. This act of bipartisanship, which has become rare in the 113th Congress, reveals what is possible when policymakers work together in the best interest of children.

First signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990, CCDBG is a federal initiative to help low-income working families pay for the high cost of childcare. More and more families require childcare because both parents work or are in school, but the cost of childcare is also rising. Center-based childcare for an infant is now more expensive than tuition at a public college in 31 states and DC, and this cost comes at a time when young families are financially stressed dealing with all the other costs that come with having a new child. Childcare, like all early childhood education initiatives, can also have major positive effects on young children’s development, and it increases workforce participation for parents.

Yet CCDBG has been due for reauthorization since 1996. Since then, millions of families have accessed subsidies for childcare and we have learned much about child health and development. While CCDBG is an important initiative, this reauthorization is necessary to improve health and safety of childcare providers, which can vary widely based on provider, and to implement important advances in understanding child health and development. By passing S.1086 the Senate has taken an important step toward closing health and safety loopholes with provisions such as increased pre-service training for providers and improved monitoring. This CCDBG reauthorization also helps parents work with provisions such as continuous 12-month eligibility so families don’t have to reapply for subsidies mid-year, a process that often results in missed work.

Passing this bill is a small but necessary step toward improving the early years for children. It is remarkable, however, given that it took nearly two decades to pass a CCDBG reauthorization bill and that this Senate, which is among the most partisan ever, was the Senate to do it, and with a 96-2 vote. This reveals that even in these partisan times Congress can and should come together for a truly bipartisan cause – improving the lives of this nation’s children. The House of Representatives should follow the Senate’s lead and quickly pass CCDBG reauthorization to improve the health and safety of children in childcare across the country.

After that, Congress should continue working in a bipartisan way to further improve the early years for children. One way is to authorize state-federal partnerships to greatly expand access to high-quality pre-Kindergarten to ensure children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. Such a plan, with state-federal partnerships and state flexibility modeled after the highly successful Children’s Health Insurance Program, is found in the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S.1697 and H.R.3461). The Strong Start Act is also bipartisan, and we hope to see Congress continue their bipartisan work to benefit children.