On Tuesday, April 27, 2021, the Senate HELP Committee conducted a hearing, Supporting Children, Workers, and Families by Strengthening America’s Child Care. Witnesses included
Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, Chief Policy Officer, ZERO TO THREE; Ms. Susan Gale Perry
Chief Deputy Secretary, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; Ms. Dasja Reed, Parent, New Orleans, Louisiana; and Ms. Khadija Lewis Khan, Executive Director
Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center, Providence, RI
The week before, Senator Patty Murray reintroduced her Child Care for Working Families Act, but the hearing’s focus was not specific to different child care legislation pending but on the various needs that families face. Senator Murray said that this was the Committee’s first child care hearing in years. She talked about the number of mothers that had to quit their jobs due to a lack of child care during the pandemic. Murray said 20,000 child care centers have closed since the pandemic, highlighting the disproportionate impact on communities of color. Murray pointed out, however, that the industry was under challenge before the pandemic. She highlighted how in many states, child care costs exceed the cost of a college education. She also harkened back to her first run for the Senate in 1992 when she was a “mom in tennis shoes” advocating for child care.
Ranking Committee Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) emphasized they were coming together in a bipartisan effort to examine the need for child care. But he also warned off using the reconciliation process to enact changes. Burr emphasized the impact on working parents and employers.
He also highlighted child care services staying open during the pandemic for essential workers and said that K-12 education could learn from the child care response to the pandemic. He concluded his opening remarks emphasizing parent choice and flexibility and being on guard against policy choices that could hurt care.
Ms. Reed, a mother with a young child, spoke eloquently of the challenges she faced seeking child care after a new birth and focused on the challenges of the past year and the pandemic.
“Last September, I found new child care for Jarret. I was scheduled to return to work during phase 3 of New Orleans’ reopening so it was great timing. Jarret went for about 3 weeks before
I found out that I was not eligible for the child care assistance I had just started receiving before the pandemic because I was not back at work yet. I was still trying to get my new business off
the ground and while I had a full course load, it was not enough credit hours to qualify for
assistance. I could not afford the $740 monthly child care fee without the child care assistance,
so Jarret lost his spot.”
Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) asked whether what we needed was more government involvement comparing child care and its deficiencies to deficits he foresaw in the health care field. Dr. Jones-Taylor pushed back on that suggestion pointing out the current child care system was dependent on the free market, and that market has not addressed the need of families and providers. There was also an agreement by the other three witnesses that more was needed if we were to provide the level and quality of care families need.
Senator Murray wrapped up to emphasize the importance of child care and that we need to address this child care crisis if we are going to build an economy that works for working families.