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Sen. Warren Unveils Legislation To Provide Universal Child Care, Early Learning To All Families

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

(Editor's note: The following information was submitted by the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Vice Chair of the Majority Leader's Task Force on Families and Children Living in Poverty, today unveiled the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, a comprehensive and bicameral bill that would provide millions of families with free, high-quality child care and early learning options and ensure that every family in the country can affordably access these services. Joining the legislation as cosponsors are Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), and Stephen Horsford (D-Nev.).

Over the past generation, wages have effectively remained flat while the cost of child care has skyrocketed. In nearly half of all states in America, infant child care costs are higher than the cost of in-state public college tuition. Meanwhile, low-income families spend almost a fifth of their entire income on child care, and only a third of families are able to send their children to child care centers or family child care homes.

This lack of access to high-quality, affordable child care prevents parents from fully participating in the workforce, holding them back from career and educational opportunities and placing a drag on our entire economy. Lack of affordable, high-quality care also means many children in the U.S. start kindergarten without the skills they need to reach their full potential.

"As the wealthiest country in the world, access to affordable and high-quality child care and early education should be a right for all families rather than a privilege for only the rich," said Senator Warren. "Our legislation would guarantee all parents affordable access to safe and nurturing child care and early learning opportunities for their kids."

"Childcare and early learning should not be a luxury that only people with money have access to, but right now that's the status quo in this country. I know what it's like to struggle to make ends meet as a parent - I cleaned at my daughters pre-school so she could have early learning opportunities - that's not who we should be as a country," said Congresswoman Deb Haaland. "If we're going to get serious about ending the cycle of poverty in New Mexico and the entire country, we need to invest in universal childcare and early learning. The bill Senator Warren and I are introducing today is a bold and comprehensive proposal to remove barriers so moms and dads can take those extra classes at the university or community college, or work to get that promotion without the burden of childcare on their shoulders while ensuring children have the care they need early in life."

The legislation would fund a system of locally-run, affordable, and high-quality child care programs inspired by the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1971, which was vetoed by President Nixon. The lawmakers' proposal builds on the successes of both the federal Head Start program and the U.S. Department of Defense military child care program.

The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act:

  • Ensures universal access: This legislation provides a mandatory federal investment to establish and support a network of locally-run Child Care and Early Learning Centers and Family Child Care Homes so that every family, regardless of their income or employment, can access high-quality, affordable child care options for their children from birth to school entry.
  • Guarantees affordability: Families below 200% of the federal poverty line (about $51,500 for a family of four) could access these child care options at zero cost. Families with higher incomes would pay a subsidized fee on a sliding scale based on their income, as in the military child care program. No family would pay more than 7% of their income for these public child care options.
  • Invests in child care workers: The legislation ensures parity by requiring that wages and benefits for child care workers be comparable to those of similarly-credentialed local public school teachers, and invests in worker training and professional development modeled after the military child care program.
  • Provides high-quality, essential developmental services: Centers and Family Child Care Homes will meet high-quality standards based on current U.S. military child care and Head Start program standards. Providers would receive support and time to meet new requirements, which would focus on early learning and social-emotional development. Like Head Start, the program would offer a full range of comprehensive mental and physical health, dental, and other services to children who need them in a safe and nurturing environment that promotes children's holistic growth and development.
  • Includes pre-kindergarten (pre-K) educational services: The network of Centers and Family Child Care Homes would provide pre-K curriculum and educational services for children before they enter kindergarten. This legislation would also incentivize states and cities to expand their investments in early childhood education.

The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act has been endorsed by National Women's Law Center; National Education Association (NEA); American Federation of Teachers (AFT); All Our Kin; Coalition for Social Justice; Zero to Three; Center for Law and Social Policy; Service Employees International Union; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); National Partnership for Women & Families; Community Change Action; James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate economist; Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director of the  Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality; Chris Herbst, Associate Professor at the Arizona State University School of Public Affairs; Alison Baulos, Executive Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at The University of Chicago; Mehrsa Baradaran, Author of The Color of Money; MA State Senator Jason Lewis, Fifth Middlesex District and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education; MA State Representative Alice H. Peisch, 14th Norfolk District and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education; MA State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Middlesex and Worcester District; MA State Senator Eric P. Lesser, First Hampden and Hampshire District; MA State Representative Jack Patrick Lewis, 7th Middlesex District; MA State Representative Sarah K. Peake, Fourth Barnstable District; MA State Representative Lindsay N. Sabadosa, First Hampshire District; MA State Representative Jon Santiago, 9th Suffolk District; Thomas W. Bernard, Mayor of North Adams, MA; Paul Heroux, Mayor of Attleboro, MA; Nicole LaChapelle, Mayor of Easthampton, MA; Marc McGovern, Mayor of Cambridge, MA; David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton, MA; Joseph Petty, Mayor of Worcester, MA; Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston, MA; Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell; Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards; Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu; Winthrop, MA Town Manager Austin Faison; Anne Teschner, Executive Director of The Care Center, Holyoke, MA; Necy Lopes, President of the Board of Directors, Cape Verdean Association of Brockton, MA; Community Action Programs Inter-City Inc. of Chelsea, MA; NM Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham; New Mexico Voices for Children; Young Women United; New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard; NM State Representative Javier Martinez; Charles Goodmacher, Government Relations Director, NEA-New Mexico; and Stephanie Ly, President, AFT New Mexico.

"High-quality and affordable child care is a fundamental building block to achieving gender justice in this country. It ensures parents can get and keep jobs, that children start off with the tools they need to thrive, and that child care workers are paid a wage that reflects the enormous contribution they make to our society and economy. The National Women's Law Center is excited to endorse the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, which brings these values together and ensures that more women and families will have greater economic stability and opportunity." -- Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women's Law Center

"I applaud the work by Senator Warren and Representative Haaland to ensure that every child, regardless of background or social status, has equal access to the high-quality, affordable child care and education opportunities that lay the foundation for our children's success in school and in life." -- Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association 

"In addition to providing for universal access to child care and early education, the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act would invest in child care workers through higher, professional wages and better access to professional development and training opportunities. The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act will help provide the educational and developmental experiences, support, and nurturing that all children should have-the things we know will prepare them for the great futures they deserve." -- Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations at the National Education Association

"Ask any parents about their financial worries, and they are certain to put the rising cost of child care high on their list. Parents are caught in a bind-they need to work to support their kids, but more and more of their paychecks are going to child care. That's money families could be spending directly on their children or saving for college. And the astronomical cost of child care is keeping more and more parents, especially mothers, out of the workforce. In fact, child care is more expensive than the cost of college tuition in 28 states. This is bad for children, bad for families and bad for our economy. Sen. Warren and Rep. Haaland know what it's like to balance work and child care- they have been in the same situation as millions of parents. Sen. Warren and Rep. Haaland's Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act of 2019 would put us on a path to guaranteeing that every family in America has access to high-quality, affordable child care options the same way that every family has access to a neighborhood public school. And it would ensure child care workers have a voice to advocate for their profession and for what kids need, and to earn wages that enable them to support their own families." -- Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

"On behalf of All Our Kin, I am thrilled by Senator Warren's bold vision for a universal child care system that works for children, families, and educators. Senator Warren's proposed bill recognizes and responds to the critical importance of children's development in the earliest years; meets the needs of today's working families; and gives parents the power to make meaningful choices about how and where their children are cared for.  For two decades, All Our Kin has worked to increase the supply, quality, and sustainability of community-based child care programs, and we have seen first-hand the difference that quality care for children ages 0-5 makes in the lives of children and families.  This is an investment too long overdue, and I celebrate this proposed step forward." -- Jessica Sager, Co-Founder and CEO of All Our Kin

"I write to applaud [Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland's] efforts through the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act to address the need for high-quality, affordable child care, one of the biggest challenges to working families with very young children, and consequently, to the wellbeing of our nation's future workforce. The bill recognizes that all families, regardless of income, need support to access and afford high-quality child care and would help ensure that no family pays more than they can afford." -- Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of Zero to Three. Read the full letter of support here.

"The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is excited to support the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act and is grateful to Senator Warren and Representative Haaland for elevating this issue that's critical to so many. We applaud them for introducing this ambitious legislation that would transform the economic security of families and children. All families, particularly families with low incomes, need high-quality, affordable child care that fosters children's development and supports parents' ability to work or go to school. Yet, affordable, high-quality child care is out of reach for far too many families. We look forward to working with Congress to make affordable child care a reality." -- Olivia Golden, Executive Director of Center for Law and Social Policy

"It's already hard enough for working families to make ends meet, let alone afford the extraordinary cost of quality childcare. Senator Warren's plan provides much-needed relief to millions of hardworking families who are falling behind in an economy that overwhelmingly favors the wealthy. It's time to ensure that all families have access to affordable childcare and that providers of that care are paid a fair wage for the important work they do." -- Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

"Research shows that effective, affordable early care and education has beneficial multi-generation effects, helping parents enter the workforce, gain critical skills and be self-sufficient while providing their children the early developmental resources they need to succeed in school and life.  Access to these resources supports families and the future of our families, workforce and country." -- James Heckman, Nobel Laureate economist 

"Coalition for Social Justice is pleased to hear that Senator Warren will be prioritizing early education and care for all.  It's a vital policy that will support parents, aide in the healthy development of children and help boost our economy." -- Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice

"This proposal represents an extraordinary vision for meeting our nation's neglected early learning and child care needs. It would create and improve hundreds of thousands of jobs and would reduce persistent racial and gender inequality holding back millions of adults and children alike. An ambitious plan like this would help secure our nation's economic future and should be core to a new social contract with families and communities." -- Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality

"This proposal is a thoughtful, ambitious attempt to deal with two problems plaguing the child care market: the high cost of care experienced by many families and the low quality of services offered by many child care providers.  By creating a system of publicly supported child care--in which generous financial assistance is offered in tandem with strong quality standards--this plan effectively places the dual policy goals of cost reduction and quality improvement on equal footing. As a result, it will enable more parents to enter the labor force while improving children's school readiness." -- Chris Herbst, Associate Professor at the Arizona State University School of Public Affairs

"Rigorous research makes clear that investments in children are of key importance to promoting economic and educational opportunity.  Such investments also improve physical and mental health for our next generation.  As a new parent returning to work, I know firsthand the importance of quality, affordable childcare. Expanding access to such programs, and improving wages for and skills of child care workers, is a smart policy solution to ensure every child and family has the high-quality early care and education necessary for success." -- Alison Baulos, Executive Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at The University of Chicago

"Much of our social policy in the realm of early childcare still relies on an outdated model of marriage and family--two income earners with dad going to work all day and mom staying home. Whether we like it or not, this is not reality.  The bulk of childcare duties rests on mothers who must stop their education and career advancement to care for children. We are losing a lot of talent this way. In the alternative, so much lifetime development happens during the ages of 0-5 and many children are falling through the cracks.  This is especially true for many LMI communities, especially black and brown communities that have inadequate early childhood services.  This bill will be a boon for those communities... It will allow mothers and fathers who want to work and go to school to do so and it will provide a safe and nourishing environment for the future. This is the most important issue we can be focusing on right now in the realm of gender equality." -- Mehrsa Baradaran, Author of The Color of Money

Read statements of support from policymakers and advocates in Massachusetts (here) and New Mexico (here).

Senator Warren first announced her proposal in February 2019. In October 2017, Senator Warren delivered a speech at the National Women's Law Center in which she spoke about her experiences as a mother juggling school, work, and raising her two young children, and about the urgent need for government to help lower the cost of child care and truly invest in America's children.

Senator Warren and Representative Haaland previously worked together to introduce a bill to address unsafe military housing, and on legislation to combat the opioid and substance use epidemic.

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