Nearly 8 million Americans can't work because they don't have childcare

Lawmakers need to step up, starting with passing two pieces of legislation heading to the House this week.

u.s. childcare legislation

Childcare in America was a patchwork quilt full of holes before the pandemic, barely covering the needs of American families. Then the pandemic ripped the raggedy blanket away and revealed just how unprotected and vulnerable families and young children are in the United States.

According to U.S. Census data released last week, more than 7.5 million American workers could not work in July because they had to stay home to care for a child. Mothers will not stay silent as their children shiver and earnings freeze.

Childcare is key to the United States' economic recovery, and this week is key in the fight for childcare. Lawmakers need to step up and wrap families in a comprehensive childcare plan, starting with passing two pieces of legislation heading to the House this week.

This week, the House will vote on two key pieces of legislation aimed at helping families and the childcare industry. The Child Care for Economic Recovery Act (introduced by Massachusetts Democrats Rep. Katherine Clark and Rep. Richard E. Neal, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman) aims to increase federal investment in childcare to $10 billion a year for each fiscal year from 2020 through 2024. That's a massive increase from the current yearly investment of less than $3 billion. The legislation would also see the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit made fully refundable.

The second piece of legislation is the Child Care is Essential Act, which was introduced by Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D), Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott (D) and Washington Senator Patty Murray (D). It proposes a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund be created within the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant to stabilize the childcare industry.

That number—$50 billion‚is what the childcare industry has been asking Congress for (and not received) since May. Since then, a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found the nation is at risk of losing 40% of the pre-pandemic childcare center spots without federal assistance, and that gaps in the Paycheck Protection Program mean minority-owned childcare businesses are particularly at risk.

Rep. Richard E. Neal, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman believe both the Child Care is Essential Act and the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act are likely to pass the House this week, but whether they will then make it through the Senate and onto President Trump's desk is another matter.

There is some bipartisan support for investing in the childcare industry, though. Earlier this month, 41 Republican House members sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for more support for the childcare industry,

The letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reads in part, "As our country moves towards economic recovery, no industry will be able to recover if a large portion of the workforce is unable to access the child care that they rely on to go to work. Additional federal investments will help ensure the child care industry's survival now and will in turn support our economic recovery in the coming months."

Separately from the letter, Republican senators Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (Texas) have called for federal support through the Back to Work Child Care Grants Act of 2020, which would provide nine months of financial assistance for childcare providers. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Georgia) also called for an increase in funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Ernst and Loeffler introduced a Senate resolution calling for $25 billion in child care relief funding, about half of what the industry is asking for.

On both sides of the aisle, lawmakers are listening as constituents, particularly Gen Z and Millennial voters, plead for help with childcare.

In November, we will see if voters go for Presidential Candidate Joe Biden's affordable childcare plan, but parents with bills to pay and no help to safely care for their kids can't wait that long. This week, when the Child Care is Essential Act and the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act hit the floor of the House, desperate parents may finally see some much-needed forward momentum on the issue.

If nothing is done, and if party politics prevents the numerous ideas from gaining traction, the United States may have to prepare for an even worse economic downturn. Yes, having 7.5 million American workers out of work because they don't have childcare is bad, but if even more day care centers close it's going to get a lot worse.

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