A Call for New Investments in Child Care Affordability, Quality

By Hannah Matthews

Today, President Obama made a landmark announcement: a plan to provide high-quality child care to all low-income children under age 4. This announcement builds on the Administration’s enduring efforts to increase access to high-quality child care and early education for children ages birth to five through the expansion of state pre-kindergarten programs, Early Head Start, and voluntary home visiting.

Under the president’s proposal, all families with young children under age 4, in households with incomes under twice the federal poverty level (or just over $40,000 for a family of three), would be guaranteed access to high-quality child care through increased funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Currently only 27 percent of eligible families with children under age 5 receive help with child care costs through CCDBG.

To receive funding under this proposal, states would have to develop sound plans for building the supply of quality infant-toddler care and ensure that the rates  they pay to providers through the child care subsidy program cover the cost of quality care. By the time this proposal is fully implemented in 2025, it will have expanded access to more than 1 million additional young children than CCDBG covers today.

The President’s proposal would also fund the improvements to state child care programs included in the recent CCDBG reauthorization. This proposal is in addition to his plan to streamline and increase the child care tax credit and also part of a larger set of initiatives supporting working families. The president has also called for paid family leave and paid sick time for workers, another critical proposal for young children.

The early years of life are a period of incredible growth. During this formative time, babies develop a set of social, emotional, and cognitive skills that lay the foundation for the very skills they will need to be successful in school and in the workplace. Research is clear that child care with caring and skilled caregivers; healthy and safe environments; and linkages to community supports help promote healthy development for infants and toddlers and create a strong base for the future. For low-income children, high-quality care has the added benefit of helping lessen the negative impacts of economic hardship.

In his State of the Union speech earlier this week, the President referred to quality, affordable child care as a national economic priority. Putting our youngest children front and center recognizes the crucial importance of this time period—as well as the incredible gaps that exist in our country today. Nearly half of our infants and toddlers live in low-income families. Children under 3 are the most likely of any age group to experience poverty with potentially lasting consequences for education, health, and other key outcomes. This has adverse implications not just for children and their families, but for our nation’s next generation of workers. 

During these formative years, many young children spend significant time being cared for by individuals other than their parents. The majority (61 percent) of mothers with children under 3 are in the labor force. Thirty percent of poor children and more than half of low-income children live with at least one parent working full-time. Yet, infant care is the most costly of all child care, exceeding public college tuition in more than half the states for infants in center-based care, and least likely to be of sufficient quality to support healthy development.

Raising the quality of care for low-income infants, along with ensuring paid family leave, would get our babies off to a strong start with lasting and widespread impacts. Quality infant care supports babies in laying the foundation for future success. Helping working parents meet the high cost of care puts more money in their pockets, and when parents can afford higher-quality, stable child care, they are more likely to stay on the job and advance. A plan that supports both generations is likely to benefit families and the nation as whole. This is an exciting day for children, parents and our country.