July 27, 2020
Last Tuesday, at a child care center in New Castle, DE, Vice President Joe Biden shared his long-awaited care plan. As part of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s economic recovery plan, “The Biden Plan for Mobilizing American Talent and Heart to Create a 21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce” acknowledges that we have a long history of undervaluing care in our country and calls for an investment of $775 billion over 10 years.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fragility of our care and early education system. The child care crisis has been making headlines regularly in recent months with essential workers desperately needing providers to remain open, other parents struggling without child care as they balance working from home, and providers trying to figure out how to safely serve children, protect staff, and stay financially afloat. As state restrictions ease and more providers open their doors, many are finding it impossible to stay in business. Providers have struggled to find and pay for the necessary personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies - some spending an average of $700 out of their own pockets. And whether due to parents fearful of exposing their children to infection and choosing to keep them at home, or to new social distancing guidelines, many providers cannot maintain high enough enrollment to pay the bills.
Biden’s plan makes clear that our economy will not recover from COVID-19 without a substantial investment in care-- which is in line with what a majority of voters want. First and foremost, he plans to provide the funding needed to keep caregivers and educators afloat during the crisis.
But, in reality, our system has been in crisis long before COVID-19. President Trump has expressed the need to invest in child care and has signed spending packages that increased funds for child care subsidies, but has not put forward a comprehensive plan solve the issues plaguing this industry. Biden offers a detailed plan to build a better care system. Below are some major highlights of the child care portion:
Expanding Child Care Access
For the average family in the United States, child care costs nearly $10,000 annually; for someone earning minimum wage that amounts to as much as 64 percent of their income. Biden’s plan takes numerous steps to make care more affordable.
A Biden administration would provide subsidies to help defray the cost of child care for low- and middle-income families. Biden would embrace the Child Care for Working Families Act, which was first introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) in 2017 and reintroduced in 2019 with strong support among Democrats in both houses. (Here’s New America’s take from when it was first introduced). This act stipulates that families earning less than 150 percent of the state’s median income would spend no more than 7 percent of their income on child care. Low-income families would not have to pay anything. The legislation also takes important steps to ensure program quality by tying funding to quality measures, increasing reimbursement rates, and supporting educators with higher compensation and professional learning opportunities, among other things.
In addition to subsidies, Biden’s plan also offers a sizable and refundable child care tax credit for low- and middle-income families who would prefer it. Families earning up to $125,000 per year would be eligible for a tax credit for half of what they spend on child care for children under age 13-- up to $8,000 for one child or $16,000 for two or more children. To help higher earning families who still struggle to afford child care, partial tax credits would be available to those earning up to $400,000. This is significantly more generous than the current Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit which maxes out at $3,000 per child and is non-refundable, meaning low-income families who don’t earn enough to owe federal income taxes cannot benefit.
Much like President Obama, Biden also wants to make pre-K accessible to all 3- and 4-year-olds. In partnership with states, Biden would create a publicly funded mixed-delivery system that would include public schools, child care centers, family child care, as well as Head Start programs, giving families the ability to choose the early education settings that work best for their children.
And to alleviate child care costs associated with school-aged children, Biden’s plan seeks to provide greater access to Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) subsidies. CCDBG can already be used for children under the age of 13, but limited funding and strict state eligibility rules mean only a small percentage of federally eligible families actually benefit as of now. Low-and middle income parents with school-aged children would also have access to the tax credits for before- and after-school, or summer programs. Accessing child care is also one of the greatest challenges college students with children face, and this plan would give money to states to expand on-campus child care and wraparound services for caregiver students.
The Biden plan proposes further steps to address where and when child care is offered. Limited hours of operation present a major barrier for many working families. Biden would incentivize providers to offer care during early morning hours, evenings, and weekends. He would “offer bonus payments to providers who operate during nontraditional hours” and create a new Child Care Growth and Innovation fund which would allocate resources to programs meeting the needs of “families with high barriers to care.” This would support families with unstable work schedules, often concentrated in the retail industry, food-services, and other hourly occupations. They often are stuck scrambling to find child care in the evening or early morning hours without advanced notice. Expanding access to flexible child care programs would especially benefit women of color in low-wage jobs who are more likely to have unstable schedules. Increasing the number providers open during nontraditional hours would alleviate the stress of parents who can’t afford to miss shifts and provide consistent and dependable high-quality care for their children.
Child Care Infrastructure
Biden’s plan would also take steps to ensure that high-quality care is more readily available by building new child care facilities and renovating existing ones. Throughout the country, and particularly in rural areas, parents often have difficulty finding convenient child care. And even when child care is available, many facilities are not safe or developmentally appropriate for young children. Such buildings can put children in physical danger and impede their opportunity to learn. Biden calls for creating safe, energy-efficient child care facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities. This would include creating a child care construction tax credit to increase the availability of work-based child care, which can be particularly convenient for parents.
Strengthening the Workforce
Perhaps the most exciting part of Biden’s plan is its strong commitment to show caregivers and early educators “respect and dignity, and give them the pay and benefits they deserve.” A strong workforce is key to high-quality early care and education because children learn through meaningful interactions with adults, and those adults need specialized knowledge and skills to support children’s development.
Despite the essential nature of their work, many early educators make poverty level wages and rarely have access to benefits. As of 2016, more than half of the workforce depended on some form of public assistance to get by. Educators concerned with making ends meet or exhausted from working their second or even third job will have a harder time providing quality care to young children. These conditions make it difficult to attract and retain quality people. And the resulting high rates of turnover mean less stability for children.
In line with the Child Care for Working Families Act, Biden promises significant raises and access to benefits (the benefits would largely come via his other proposed federal programs). Early childhood educators would earn as much as elementary school teachers with comparable qualifications and experience. An interesting aspect of his plan that is becoming more common in early education platforms is ensuring access to collective bargaining. This could ensure that the workforce truly gets the compensation, working conditions, and job protections that it deserves.
Professionalizing the workforce will also require that early educators have access to higher education and training. A Biden administration would invest in such programs, specifically calling out registered apprenticeships and coaching for early educators.
Biden claims that these reforms would lead to 1.5 million new early education jobs. Analysis from the Economic Policy Institute predicts that the entire plan, which includes the significant elder care and disability care component, would support three million new jobs, largely by allowing women who are saddled with unpaid caregiving responsibilities to enter the workforce. This ambitious plan would be paid for by adjusting tax breaks for real estate investors and making sure high-income earners comply with tax law.