Is Congress about to make child care more affordable? 5 questions answered

Editor’s note: Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., recently reintroduced their Child Care for Working Families Act – a bill they say will “ensure affordable, high-quality child care for working middle class families and those living paycheck to paycheck.”

Taryn Morrissey, author of “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality,” and a former senior adviser on early childhood policy during the Obama administration, explains how far the bill would go in achieving that goal – and also whether it has a chance of passing.

1. How big of a deal is this bill and why?

It’s a big deal because in 2016, about 60 percent of kids under age 6 were in some type of nonparental child care if they weren’t in kindergarten.

The Child Care for Working Families Act would enhance our existing public child care subsidy program by nearly doubling the number of children eligible. In 2012, 14.2 million children were eligible for child care subsidies under federal rules.

It’s important to point out that child care is more than a place for children to spend time while their parents work. Child care should also provide opportunities for children to learn. If teachers are well-trained and adequately paid, and provide enriching experiences and activities, early education can have lasting, positive impacts on children’s educational, health and economic outcomes.

Unfortunately, much of the care families use today is of low or mediocre quality. High-quality care is more expensive than most parents can afford. Child care expenditures make up about 11 percent of families’ annual income, but that reflects families’ use of a mix of licensed centers or child care homes and informal arrangements with friends or relatives.

If a family wants to use center-based care for an infant, that costs much more – a whopping 27 percent of median income for single-parent households. And in most regions of the U.S., families with young children are spending more on child care than they are on housing, food or health care.

2. Will working families and the poor be able to feel or see the difference? If so, how?

Yes, parents with young children – and who are typically earning less now than they will when they are further along in their careers – would have more money for housing, health care and the many other expenses that come with raising children. Further, if they choose, parents who left the workforce due to the high costs of child care will be able to return to work without having to spend a sizable portion of their paychecks on child care.

Families with infants and toddlers will likely find it easier to find and pay for child care. High-quality infant-toddler care is currently very expensive and hard to find, even though it’s important for children’s development. The bill will also provide funds for states to expand their preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-old children.

3. Making child care affordable is one thing. Providing quality child care is another. Can this bill really do both?

Yes, and one of the ways it will do that is by increasing workforce training and pay.