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Suzanne B.
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  • Child Care

    by Representative Suzanne Bonamici

    Posted on 2016-01-07

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    BONAMICI. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding.

    I also thank the gentlewoman from California for her wise remarks and for her leadership, especially on issues facing foster children in our country.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to discuss a very important issue that affects many families across the country, and that is the need for affordable, quality child care and to encourage all of my colleagues to cosponsor House Resolution 386. This resolution, which I introduced in July, with the support of 27 original cosponsors, affirms the commitment of Congress to put high-quality child care within the reach of every hardworking family, regardless of how much one earns.

    Mr. Speaker, access to high-quality child care is essential to the well-being of children and families. Really, when we think about our economic future and about the quality of life in our communities, these are such important issues. I will share with you a real story.

    Deondre is a 9-year-old boy in Oregon who understands this issue well. He shared this experience with his childcare provider, Ms. Renee, who takes care of him and his brother while his mother goes to school and works.

    Deondre said: ``My mom works and goes to school. Sometimes she is done by 6:30, but, other days, she is not done until midnight... Ms. Renee,'' he says, ``picks both of us up from school, makes us dinner, helps us with homework, and puts us to bed.'' Mr. Speaker, Deondre's story is just one example, but it illustrates the critical role that childcare providers play in children's lives, and it emphasizes the value of high-quality child care for working parents.

    It is pretty clear, though, that our policies have not kept pace with our changing family structure and with our evolving workforce. In more than 60 percent of the married couples with children in the United States, both parents are working. In more than 40 percent of households, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for the families, and 34 percent of children are living with an unmarried parent. Access to affordable, quality child care is critical to the stability of families and to the communities across the country.

    Childcare costs also affect children's well-being and the local economy. In Washington, D.C., for example, families pay more than $20,000 each year, on average, for a child's care; and in many States, including in my home State of Oregon, the cost of child care exceeds in-State tuition at public universities. We hear a lot about how rising tuition costs create barriers to accessing postsecondary education, and this, too, is a critical issue. I know many of my colleagues in both the House and the Senate--frankly, on both sides of the aisle--are eager to curb the cost of college to enable more students to get a higher education. Yet, in many places, the cost of caring for our infants often outpaces the cost of earning a university diploma.

    Mr. Speaker, we need to be addressing the soaring costs of child care with the same urgency with which we seek to rein in college costs. Just as shutting students out of college has tremendous economic consequences, the fact that families must spend a growing share of their incomes on child care also comes with consequences. This is going to require some long-term thinking, and we have to really look into our future as to what this investment means for our families.

    Sadly, but not surprisingly, low-income families tend to be the hardest hit by the rising costs of child care. Some families with limited means spend about 40 percent of their household incomes on child care, and some estimates suggest that the inability of employees to find reliable child care costs companies billions of dollars in lost output. We see some companies now having on-site child care--and that is great--but they are few and far between.

    The high cost of child care is truly an issue of equity. When families are forced to make sacrifices to care for young children, these sacrifices disproportionately fall upon women and people of color. A recent Pew Research study found that, over the last 15 years, the cost of child care has likely contributed to an increasing number of mothers who have to put their careers on hold. Of course, there is nothing wrong with parents who choose to stay home with their children--absolutely not, when that is their choice--but for many parents in low-income households, leaving jobs to care for children is not a choice. These parents cannot afford to work and pay for child care.

    What do they do? Before childcare costs became unaffordable, more mothers were joining the workforce, were pursuing careers, and were contributing to the financial stability of families. Additionally, the childcare field primarily employs women, many of whom are underpaid--probably most of whom are underpaid. In fact, a new Economic Policy Institute study found that childcare workers are approximately twice as likely as other workers to live below the poverty line.

    [[Page H164]] When I went to college years ago, I had a friend who ran the childcare center at the university. He made a comment to me once that really stuck with me. He said that people pay more per hour to park their cars in the parking garage than they do to have them look after their children. Now, that is unacceptable. It is important to pay childcare workers well so we can recruit and retain great people to take care of our children, who are the next generation. Very few workers receive healthcare coverage or pension plans or any kind of retirement security. For many childcare workers who have children themselves, the cost of child care for their own children is truly out of reach.

    For many of our country's minority households, affordable child care is not only expensive, it is hard to find. The gap in wealth between White and Black households is the largest it has been in several decades. To exacerbate these challenges, low-wage jobs frequently have nontraditional schedules, which makes accessing high-quality child care especially difficult.

    Mr. Speaker, many families are caught in this financial trap of working parents who are struggling and who are doing their best. They are trying to make ends meet in the face of rising costs and stagnant wages, but they are forced to choose between leaving the workforce to care for their children, which can push their families closer to poverty, and handing over their paychecks to cover the cost of child care, which has a similar result on their household finances.

    In reality, there is no easy solution for these distressed families-- distressed and stressed, I might add. More than 60 percent of young children attend child care so that their working parents can earn a living. At the same time, child care costs more than $10,000 a year in many places--here in D.C., it is even more--and it too often rises faster than household incomes; but the problems caused by unaffordable child care extend beyond family finances.

    High-quality early childhood education produces many benefits for children that continue well into the future, and this is that long-term investment that I am talking about. Children who access these programs see long-term benefits, including success in school, improved employment outcomes, and good health. When families can't access those high-quality childcare programs, their children may lose access to some of the benefits of early learning, like developing literacy and teamwork skills.

    Congress does have a role to play in addressing these problems, and this is one of the most important investments we can make in our future. We must advance these existing programs that are effective at supporting working families and that are preparing children for success down the road.

    Head Start is an example of one such program. It serves, roughly, a million low-income people--more than 12,000 in my home State of Oregon. For each of these children and families, Head Start provides a quality early childhood education and increases access to health insurance, housing assistance, and job training. If you have never visited one of your Head Start facilities in your district, I encourage you to do so. They are really working hard to engage the families and to really get that early learning.

    The benefits of Head Start for families and children are well- documented. Last year, more than 200,000 families in Head Start received job training and adult education services, and studies show that children in Head Start are better prepared for kindergarten and that they make gains in learning and in social-emotional development. Preschool Development Grants, including a new program that just passed recently as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, will help States to improve access to early childhood education programs.

    Ultimately, Mr. Speaker, Congress needs to do its part to promote universal prekindergarten programs. On a related note, my State of Oregon is instituting full-day kindergarten next year, and Congress should consider how it can support similar efforts in other States.

    Also, Federal child nutrition programs, including the Child and Adult Care Food Program, increase children's access to nutritious meals. We expect children to learn and to do well and to thrive, but if they are hungry, they can't do that, Mr. Speaker. The Child and Adult Care Food Program can help to deflect some of the childcare costs that are passed down to parents while also encouraging healthy eating habits and supporting children's development.

    I have introduced the Early Childhood Nutrition Improvement Act. This is a bipartisan bill that makes commonsense, positive changes to the Child and Adult Care Food Program. This bill will encourage more childcare providers to participate in the program, which, in turn, means that more American children will receive nutritious meals and that more childcare providers will receive support to provide those meals--again, getting a good, healthy start for those kids in our communities.

    The Early Childhood Nutrition Improvement Act also authorizes childcare providers to offer additional healthy meals or snacks. Many working families rely on full-day care, but the Child and Adult Care Food Program only supports two meals a day. A child who is in care all day--sometimes until 8 p.m. or even later--needs to get a nutritious meal in the evening. That is good for kids, it is good for families, and it is good for our future.

    Prekindergarten and child nutrition programs are examples of how the Federal Government and we in Congress are playing an important and effective role in supporting working families and in investing in better outcomes for those families in the future; but, Mr. Speaker, we certainly could be doing more. Congress should promote fair work schedules, paid time off for parents and caregivers, which my State just did at the State level, and higher wages for working families, including for people who work in the childcare field.

    I want to add, Mr. Speaker--and my colleague from California mentioned this--that many moms now go back to work within 2 weeks of giving birth. For those women here who are listening and who have given birth, you know how challenging that is for families. Twenty-five percent of women in this country go back to work 2 weeks after giving birth. We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer paid leave for women who have children. We need to change that and get a better start for our kids, for our moms, and we need to respect those working families.

    As we continue to pursue efforts to make child care affordable for all families, I encourage my colleagues to cosponsor H. Res. 386. Let's show our support for our country's childcare workforce, its children, its hardworking families, and the future of our families and our country.

    Mrs. WATSON COLEMAN. I thank the gentlewoman from Oregon very much for her work, for her resolution, and for her advocacy.

    Mr. Speaker, I now yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Fattah).

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