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By Dash Lewis

Despite a new legislative agenda when the 118th Congress is sworn in on January 3, 2023, there’s still time for the current Congress to act on a range of issues important to economic equity and opportunity. As the political dynamic shifts, the remaining few weeks of intensive legislative work are likely to draw a lot of attention from policy advocates. CLASP will be monitoring the Hill closely as we focus on advancing the following advocacy and policy agenda that supports the wellbeing and living standards of those with the lowest incomes and communities of color

CTC and EITC Expansion

2021’s expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) dramatically reduced child poverty last year and provided urgent support to families under acute economic distress. Likewise, the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2021 opened up that program to more young workers. The fully refundable CTC especially helped Black and Latinx families, who are disproportionately more likely to receive a reduced CTC—or no credit at all. This disparity is a result of high poverty rates caused by the nation’s long history of discriminatory policy in housing, health care, and education. A CLASP national survey found that parents used the monthly CTC payments in 2021 on necessities like bills, food, rent, and clothing. The expiration of the credit has placed unneeded stress back on families still dealing with severe economic turbulence. It’s imperative that Congress includes the CTC and EITC expansion in the upcoming year-end tax package and not cut taxes for businesses without helping families and workers as well.

Debt Limit Elevation

Unless Congress takes action prior to the end of the calendar year, the United States will reach its debt limit next year. Congress should raise the limit now and not leave the threat of debt default as a bargaining chip, which could be used to leverage cuts to critical programs.  Failure to raise the limit would jeopardize the economic wellbeing of people who have been marginalized.

Providing a Path to Citizenship

Congress has repeatedly declined to offer an accessible pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. These individuals have been forced to live in a precarious legal state for most of their lives, greatly impacting their ability to plan and have certainty in life. This is long overdue, and Congress must include a pathway to citizenship in any year-end omnibus budget package.

Investments in Child Care and Early Education

While the media has given much attention lately to the high costs of goods like fuel and food, families have struggled for decades with unaffordable child care. Inflationary increases have made child care even more expensive. As is often the case, existing inequity means families of color, women, and single parents are hit hardest.

Federal investment in affordable and accessible child care would go a long way to helping families who struggle with the cost and to addressing the needs of child care workers who are often paid poverty-level wages with little-to-no benefits. Child care investments in the omnibus budget that are as high as possible will help to address these ongoing challenges.

Mental Health Support for Young People

Young people are experiencing a mental health crisis, with national organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recognizing the severity of the crisis. The bipartisan mental health package currently under negotiation in the Senate must incorporate the youth mental health and telehealth provisions not included in the Safer Communities Act, along with the sections that address workforce, parity, and care integration.

Congress must also work to pass the Momnibus, which is a collection of policies that would address the Black maternal mortality crisis by providing key investments for social determinants of health including mental health support. In a country with ample wealth and resources, such racial gaps in health outcomes are unacceptable.

Dignity for Workers

Congress could enact several important measures before the end of this legislative session to improve worker conditions.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is critical legislation that would prevent pregnant workers from being forced out of their jobs and denied accommodations allowing them to continue to work. This would ensure pregnant workers can maintain their incomes and have a healthy pregnancy.

Increased funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would ensure there’s proper oversight and enforcement for instances of labor rights violations. Union elections petitions have increased by 57 percent in 2022, yet the NLRB’s funding has remained flat since 2014. The NLRB desperately needs increased funding to properly hold and monitor union elections, investigate and judge violations of labor law, and protect and enforce workers’ right to organize. Congress should increase annual funding to the NLRB by a significant amount so workers organizing to improve their workplaces can exercise their rights free from fear, intimidation, and harmful delays.

Avert Medicaid Fiscal Cliff for Territories

Federal Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and other territories is structured as a block grant, resulting in persistent underfunding of the program. In recent years Congress has provided temporary increases in Medicaid funding to territories, allowing them to make modest program improvements, such as slight eligibility increases or added benefits. However, Medicaid programs in the territories still have more restrictive eligibility and benefits than most state Medicaid programs. The current temporary increase in federal Medicaid dollars for territories ends December 16, 2022. At a minimum, Congress should extend the increase in federal Medicaid dollars for territories to avoid drastic Medicaid cuts. And to avert territory Medicaid funding crises in the long term, Congress should eliminate the block grant structure for territories and make federal funding for territory Medicaid programs equitable to state Medicaid funding formulas.

We Can’t Ignore the Need for Action

These policies are concrete and achievable steps that would improve the lives of different marginalized groups. As we continue to live in a world impacted heavily by global economic shocks, we must make proactive investments to help people deal with their daily costs and pressures. CLASP urges Congress to make the remaining time in the session meaningful and pass these measures.  

By Rachel Wilensky

Recent reports on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Child Care Stabilization Program and supplemental resources show that children, families, and the workforce are experiencing positive impacts from the relief funds allocated over the last two years. This funding has been a lifeline for the child care sector during a time of exacerbated need by improving access to care for families and wages for providers, but the resources are temporary.  

With the FY2023 federal appropriations bill currently under negotiation, Congress must allocate the largest possible increases for non-defense discretionary funding, and specifically, for early childhood programs. This will address urgent labor shortages, help parents work, and grow our economy in the short and long term.  

To date, Congress has delivered $50 billion to support children, families, and early educators. In total, this relief came from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, the 2021 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act (CRRSA), and the 2021 ARPA funding. The ARPA funding included two major investments:  

Relief funds have been effective in maintaining child care access 

The ARPA investments have had significant and positive impacts on the child care workforce and access to care. Recent data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) show that the Child Care Stabilization Program supported more than 200,000 child care providers, resulting in more than 9.5 million children having access to care. A survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) reported that one-third of programs likely would have closed without this relief funding.  

While many providers are still struggling to stay open due to staffing shortages and other financial challenges, funding from the stabilization program has helped. The ACF data show that providers primarily used the funding to cover basic operational costs like rent and utilities. Additionally, some used it to provide wage increases to early educators. But, due to the lack of stable long-term funding, providers had to structure these increases as temporary bonuses, a small incentive to stay in a field that often does not offer competitive compensation. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly half of respondents who had been in the field for only a year or less—and over a third of those with 2-5 years in the field—said they were considering leaving. 

States have also made a concerted effort to reach families with low incomes. In most states, providers received assistance in 98 percent of counties where at least 20 percent of residents have lived in poverty over the past 30 years. This is important, as access to quality, affordable child care can significantly impact a family’s economic security.  

Federal investments have also advanced racial equity 

It is also vital to ensure the stability of child care providers in racially diverse counties. Occupational and residential segregation due to racism have made telework less accessible to parents of color, and data show that child care-related job disruptions are more likely for Black and multiracial parents. ARPA stabilization funds made progress on this front too, as over half of the providers receiving stabilization funds were operating in the most racially diverse counties in the country. 

Overall, these relief funds were more equitably distributed than earlier relief efforts, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Small Business Association loans. Those programs were not accessible for child care providers, particularly Black-owned child care businesses, due to pervasive racial inequities in the banking system. ACF data show that 44 percent of providers receiving assistance through the Child Care Stabilization Program are owned and operated by people of color. That’s significant, considering child care workers are disproportionately Black (15.6 percent, compared with 12.1 percent in the overall workforce) and Hispanic (23.6 percent, compared with 17.5 percent in the overall workforce). Moreover, this is likely a conservative estimate given the lack of comprehensive data on the full spectrum of care providers (unlicensed, unregulated, etc.). Those who are left out of data collection are often people of color who are more likely to experience systemic barriers and inequities in accessing or connecting to a formalized system that would track their role as a child care provider. 

States are improving child care systems thanks to federal support 

In addition to the valuable support that the stabilization funds provided, the supplemental CCDBG resources have also proved to be an important support for states—and the families and providers that live there. 

A recent report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) highlights that states are using the ARPA resources to help make care more affordable, support the workforce, increase the availability of care, and improve the care children receive. Here are a few examples of what states are doing:  

Without continued, increased funding, families and providers will lose critical gains 

Relief funding, including the Child Care Stabilization Program and CCDBG Supplemental Discretionary resources, has been a critical lifeline for child care providers and families with young children. But providers need additional support to recover fully, and even more robust and sustainable resources are necessary to see the transformative change the sector needs. 

Temporary relief made a significant impact on recovery but will not solve the child care crisis. We urge Congress to include the largest possible increases for non-defense discretionary funding, and specifically, for early childhood programs, to address the urgent needs of families across the country. 

By Suzanne Wikle and Elisabeth Wright Burak

States are grappling with how to more effectively support their child
care workforce, including ensuring providers have access to affordable
health care. Just like parents, frontline early education professionals
are better able to support children in their care when they are healthy. A
healthy caregiver is especially important for young children because brain
development in the youngest children is influenced by relationships with
caregivers at home and in child care.
 Early education professionals need
access to affordable health care in order to realize their best health and to
best serve the children in their care.

Like other workers with low incomes, child care workers often work for small businesses or are self-employed in family child care homes and lack
access to affordable coverage options. Nationally, 16 percent of child care
workers under age 65 are uninsured, compared to 13.3 percent among all
uninsured adults under age 65 in 2019.
 Notably, the rates of uninsurance
for child care workers in the 12 states that have not yet expanded
Medicaid is almost
three times as high (30.6 percent) as in expansion
states (10.3 percent). This disproportionately affects women of color, as they comprise 40 percent of the early childhood workforce and are more likely to work in early childhood than the K-12 system.
 States have policy options available to ensure affordable health coverage for low-income workers, including child care professionals. Read more in a joint brief from CLASP, the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, and the BUILD Initiative.

CLASP submits this comment urging the U.S. Department of Education to revise and strengthen the regulations of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to ensure that all early childhood educators working in licensed, regulated, and registered settings—including for-profit and non-profit settings and family child care—are eligible to apply for PSLF.

On November 8-10, Tiffany Ferrette and Alyssa Fortner presented “Operationalizing Equity: CLASP’s Story” for the 2022 cohort in the Alliance for Early Success Operationalizing Equity, a learning and leadership program.

On October 27, Alejandra Londono Gomez joined legislators from the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate — Del. Jared Solomon, Sen. Mary Washington, Sen. Katie Hester-Fry — and Clinton Macsherry from the Maryland Family Network to discuss the recent legislative wins in Maryland, as well as new policy changes that are taking place in the child care scholarship program in the state.

By Alycia Hardy

(Excerpt)

There wasn’t much coverage of a report issued last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. But the information in it would have hit home for many Black women who work in the child care industry and are making the incredibly difficult decision to leave the profession they love.

Read the full op-ed here.

By Kailey Wilkens 

This summer, Congress extended many important child nutrition supports when it passed the Keep Kids Fed Act of 2022. One of these critical programs is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) that, among other provisions, offers reimbursement for meals and snacks in child care settings. However, CACFP distributes funding inequitably–a disparity that most hurts Black and Latino families. While the passage of the bill is a strong step forward by temporarily eliminating resource inequities, policymakers must reconsider other areas of federal nutrition programs. Specifically, policymakers should reassess how to target these funds to meet the nutritional needs of children in early education settings.  

With 23 percent of families experiencing food insecurity as of Spring 2022, child nutrition support is essential. Families of color are especially affected. For example, over the past two decades, Black and Latinx families have been twice as likely to go hungry as other communities. The pandemic only exacerbated these challenges. Addressing this issue is critical because childhood hunger has lasting detrimental effects on young children’s mental and physical health.  

Programs like CACFP work to solve this problem by helping our nation’s youngest children get the food they need for healthy development. CACFP provides financial subsidies, training, technical assistance, nutrition education, and food safety information to child care providers in a variety of settings. The program provides different reimbursements for child care centers and family child care homes. Typically, a child care home’s eligibility for meal reimbursement is determined by its location. Homes in lower-income areas receive higher “Tier I” reimbursement. Those in other areas receive a lower “Tier II” reimbursement, which can be around 50 percent less than Tier I funds.  

The consequences of the CACFP tier structure are severe. Tier II homes may only be able to afford lower-quality meals, especially if the provider is suddenly dropped from Tier I. Today, 30 percent of providers already express difficulty meeting minimum CACFP nutrition requirements with the funding they are provided. With child care costs already too much for many families to bear, most homes would not be able to increase fees to make up the difference. This may fall on providers themselves, a third of whom already experience food insecurity 

It’s possible for a Tier II child care home to qualify for Tier I reimbursement. However, most child care providers can’t afford to meet the huge administrative burden required to reach Tier I. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress established a waiver so all child care homes qualified for Tier I reimbursement. The Keep Kids Fed Act extended the waiver, which was set to expire just days after the bill passed. This urgent action ensured food security for millions of U.S. families. 

In contrast to child care homes, child care centers (traditionally in commercial buildings with more staff and children) do not have to manage the tier system. Instead, their reimbursement is based on each child’s eligibility for paid, reduced-price, or free meals. While it may still be difficult to collect this information from families, this system is much more consistent for child care providers and prevents sudden drops or changes.   

Child care homes should have a better system. These homes provide an important care option for many families, offering flexible hours (including vital care during non-traditional hours) and a home-based setting.  The tier system disadvantages Black and Latino families, who rely on family child care homes more than other families, and exacerbates long-existing systemic inequities.  

Although the Keep Kids Fed Act averted some consequences of the tier system, the CACFP area waiver extension only lasts one year. Without federal action, families and child care providers will soon be facing this same concern again. 

Congress is advancing more measures to improve child nutrition, such as the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, introduced by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). While this bill contains crucial increases in CACFP reimbursements, it does not address the tier system. 

Policymakers have made promising progress in addressing child nutrition with both of these measures. However, Congress can do more to advance equity by reconsidering the CACFP tier system. As we celebrate increased access to healthy food in the Keep Kids Fed Act and Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, we must keep up the momentum in improving child nutrition. We must ensure our nation’s children have equitable access to the quality nutrition they need to thrive.  

*Kailey Wilkens is a student at the University of California San Diego and served as a Zero Hunger Intern on the Child Care and Early Education Team at CLASP this summer. The team is grateful for her important contributions.  

On October 19, Indi Dutta-Gupta spoke at “The Unfinished Work of Children’s Rights in the United States,” which honored Marian Wright Edelman. This event was hosted by The American Academy of Political and Social Science.

On October 9, Tiffany Ferrette, Alycia Hardy, and Alyssa Fortner gave a presentation at the National Black Child Development Institute’s 51st Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. on the intersection of harsh and exclusionary discipline and data policies in child care and early education programs. The workshop highlighted historical context on policies and practices that have harmed Black children and families through pushout, suspension, and other exclusionary practices, as well as how data are currently used to track, improve, and inform policies. Participants left with recommendations on how to improve Black families’ realities and experiences in child care and early education programs at the federal, state, and local levels.