Child C.A.R.E. Act Would Guarantee Low-Income Parents’ Access to High-Quality Infant-Toddler Child Care

By Stephanie Schmit and Anitha Mohan

Today, Senator Casey (D-PA), Representative Crowley (D-NY), and Representative Frankel (D-FL) introduced the Child Care Access to Resources for Early Learning (C.A.R.E.) Act, bicameral legislation to provide high-quality child care to all low-income families (below 200 percent of poverty) with children under age four by 2025.

 The Act would provide mandatory funding to expand access to high quality infant-toddler care, increase provider payment rates to support the costs of high-quality child care, increase the compensation of infant-toddler child care providers, and otherwise strengthen the infant-toddler workforce. The bill would require states to address the needs of particular groups of children, including dual language learners and children whose parents work nontraditional hours.

Building on the Administration’s call for high-quality, affordable infant-toddler care for all low-income families, the bill would expand the number of young children receiving child care under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). As of 2012, only 36 percent of eligible children under age 5  received child care services through CCDBG and other federal funding sources. In fact, in 2014, CCDBG served the smallest number of children since 1998. While support for working parents has shrunk due to limited federal and state investments, the number of low-income young children who could benefit from high-quality child care has grown to nearly half of all young children. 

The youngest children are the most likely of any age group to experience poverty, which greatly impacts their future health, education, and other key outcomes. High-quality care—including skilled, nurturing caregivers and access to comprehensive health, mental health, family, and nutrition services, such as those provided through Early Head Start programs—can lessen the impact of economic hardship for poor and low-income children. Further, access to affordable, reliable, quality care reduces parents’ stress and supports their ability to get and keep jobs and succeed as parents and workers.

Despite these benefits, affordable, high-quality child care is out of reach for most families. Infant care is especially expensive, exceeding the cost of public college tuition in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, state child care licensing policies fail to ensure that all child care settings foster healthy development. And, state CCDBG policies fail to give child care providers the resources needed to ensure that child care providers can meet high quality standards.

The Child C.A.R.E. Act affirms what all low-income families need: access to affordable, high-quality child care. Congress should invest in our children, families, and child care providers to get our youngest children off to a strong start.