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Child care funds sought as Congress looks to fall supplemental

Opportunity seen with must-pass bills piling up

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., arrives for the House Appropriations Committee's markup on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., arrives for the House Appropriations Committee's markup on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Child care advocates are pushing for $16 billion supplemental funding as members of Congress push for a variety of priorities to be included in an emergency package expected later this year. 

Both Democratic appropriations leaders — Senate chair Patty Murray, D-Wash. and the House panel’s ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. — are longtime supporters of child care subsidies.

DeLauro in a statement Wednesday called for more money and criticized House Republicans for proposing to cut the Department of Health and Human Services’ early childhood education program Head Start, eliminate an Education Department program that provides child care at campuses and keep Child Care and Development Block Grant funding steady in fiscal 2024.

“Child care is an urgent economic priority—it is a serious crisis that needs to be addressed,” DeLauro said. “Investing in child care is an investment in our workforce, our kids, and our local small businesses.”

The National Women’s Law Center and 15 other advocacy groups released a memo Wednesday requesting the funding. 

“Congress must provide at least $16 billion per year in emergency child care dollars to address the looming supply crisis, while laying the groundwork for the sustained and transformative funding needed to ensure high-quality, affordable child care is accessible for all families,” the memo says. 

With Republicans in control of the House stating that they oppose spending above the caps in the debt limit deal , the path forward for additional child care funding is murky. Efforts to include child care funding in last year’s budget reconciliation law, which passed with just Democratic votes, were unsuccessful. 

Murray called child care “a top priority” of hers during a March appropriations hearing with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and signaled support for supplemental child care funding at the Senate’s first markup last month.

“What I really want to underscore is that we need a balanced approach here,” Murray said. “The programs that feed our families, keep people housed, or support child care centers around the country are critical.”

The request comes as the Biden administration hosted a child care summit Wednesday at the White House featuring state legislators and first lady Jill Biden, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a number of administration officials including Domestic Policy Council director Neera Tanden and White House Gender Policy Council director Jennifer Klein.

Members of Congress are eying a supplemental as a way to secure funding above the levels laid out in the debt limit deal for their priorities. 

Senate Republicans are seeking more funding for defense in a supplemental, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said earlier this month that a continuing resolution could be a vehicle for a supplemental with more aid for Ukraine, more defense spending, aid for farmers and other priorities.

Murray and Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, also intend to add nearly $14 billion in emergency funding to several fiscal 2024 bills they plan to mark up this month, though it’s not clear if any child care money would hitch a ride. The Labor-HHS-Education measure’s allotment is $2 billion, according to sources.

The child care organizations make the case that with stabilization funding from the 2021 pandemic relief law set to expire in September, 3.2 million children could lose their child care, according to a projection from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. 

Another “cliff” will occur in September 2024 when increased funding in that law for Child Care and Development Block Grants is set to expire. 

The memo says that while funding from pandemic relief laws allowed states to make investments in their child care systems, additional federal funding is needed to maintain child care spots and avoid staffing shortages and increased prices. 

“Yet without additional federal investments, even those states that have been effective at tapping into additional revenue streams have been clear that they will not be able to sustain the progress they have made, and children and families in lower-resourced states will continue to fall even further behind,” the memo states. 

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