On Thursday, February 6, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary hearing, “Solving America’s Child Care Crisis: Supporting Parents, Children, and the Economy” sought understanding from a panel of experts regarding how the federal government can better support families around the country find and afford high-quality child care.

Every day across this country, regardless of family composition or income, families struggle to afford the high cost of child care. Despite the multigenerational benefits of high-quality child care in the lives of children and families, and the overall benefits to our nation’s economy, current child care funding streams often fall short. Even with substantial federal, state, and local investments into early childhood education, current subsidy programs fail to reach all those who qualify—with only 15 percent of eligible children receiving child care subsidy in 2016.

Dr. Taryn Morrissey, Dean’s Scholar Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University, spoke about the problems families face in their attempts to access high-quality, reliable, affordable early care and education, and the consequences for children, their parents, and the U.S. economy. Specifically, Dr. Morrissey focused on: (1) the inaccessibility of affordable, high-quality early childhood learning opportunities for many families across the income spectrum and; (2) the perpetuation and widening of economic inequality among children, parents, and early care and education workers by underinvesting in early care and education programs.

Ms. Nancy Harvey, a Child Care Provider and Operator of Lil Nancy’s Primary Schoolhouse, spoke at length about the challenges she faces as a home-based child care provider is trying to meet the needs of the families she serves, her employees, and herself. She stressed that families are already overburdened with the high cost of child care, but that it still is not enough for her to meet her own financial needs as a small business owner. Harvey did highlight opportunities presented by unionizing California’s child care workers. She believes that this is an excellent step in the right direction that enables providers to advocate for themselves.

Ms. Linda Smith, Director of the Early Childhood Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, was the former deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development in the Administration for Children and Families. Based on her experience in early childhood learning, Ms. Smith spoke on the current state of child care, where she believes we need to be, and provided principles for how she feels we can get to that point. Specifically, Ms. Smith referenced the following:

1. Identifying parent needs and preferences and taking them seriously;
2. Focusing limited federal resources on those most in need;
3. Encouraging greater state and local participation and business and philanthropic involvement;
4. Learning from existing programs to spur innovation and promote improvements;
5. Supporting the child care workforce; and
6. Transforming and simplifying the system.

Ms. Angélica María González, a Parent Representative from MomsRising, spoke of her experiences as a single mom of three trying to navigate the expensive and often convoluted early childhood system. In her 14 years as a mom, she has seen relatively little changes in the child care system, which she finds problematic. Over the years, she has lost employment opportunities and housing, which she attributes to a lack of stable, affordable, high-quality child care options. Even now, after obtaining a law degree and a good job, she still must cobble together child care arrangements to meet the needs of her family. She recommends a complete revamp of the early childhood system that includes the perspectives of parents.

Chairman Gregorio Sablan (D-MP) and several of the Committee members mentioned current legislative proposals such as the Child Care for Working Families Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and in the House by the House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA). Policies such as this can address some of the concerns mentioned by the panelist. Specifically, the bill aims to reduce the cost of child care by ensuring that no family under 150 percent of the state median income pays more than seven percent of their income on child care. Also, the bill supports universal access to high-quality preschool programs for all three- and four-year old’s, and significantly improve compensation and training for the child care workforce.