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Senate Subcommittees Hold Joint Hearing on Child Care

On March 19, the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families held a joint hearing on child care. Both subcommittees have jurisdiction over the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Similar hearings were held on February 27 in the House (see The Source, 3/1/02) and on March 15 in the Senate (see The Source, 3/15/02).

Finance Subcommittee Chair John Breaux (D-LA) opened the hearing stating, “Children should not be the victims of welfare reform, left behind with inconsistent child care accommodations that do not adequately prepare them for the challenges to come.” He added, “As the Administration proposes increasing work requirements for people on welfare, the increasing need for working families to have quality child care must also be taken into consideration.”

“Quality is a critical issue,” agreed Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Chair of the Subcommittee on Families and Children. “If we don’t improve both the quality of child care that our children now spend so much time in and expand access to child care assistance to more of the working poor, we will be in danger of missing the boat on a whole generation of children,” he said, adding, “HHS estimated a year ago that we reach about 12-15 percent of those who are eligible for child care assistance.”

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) stressed the importance of making child care affordable, available, and of high quality and pointed out the difficulty in addressing the child care needs of those who work nontraditional hours. “We’re all employers in the Senate, and I see the daily challenges,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of an employer to be flexible,” he added.

Dr. Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services, the sole witness on the first panel, outlined the President’s child care proposal and “its role in advancing our welfare reform agenda.” The President’s FY2003 budget “includes $2.1 billion for the CCDBG and $2.7 billion for mandatory child care funding, a total of $4.8 billion for what is referred to as the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF),”he said, pointing out that, under the administration’s plan, “a minimum of four percent of the CCDF must be spent on activities to promote quality.”

Additionally, Dr. Horn stressed that child care funding would be available, not only through the CCDBG, but also through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), and Head Start, the early childhood learning program. He explained that, “in 2000, states transferred $2.3 billion from TANF to CCDF and directly spent $1.4 billion of TANF funds for child care,” and also in 2000, “43 states reported spending $165 million in SSBG funds for child care.”

During the question and answer period, Sen. Breaux expressed concern regarding the President’s plan to increase the work week required for welfare recipients from 30 to 40 hours. “If you move in that direction and level-fund child care, that doesn’t seem to make sense,” he said, asking, “Why are you justified in doing this?”

“Our proposal does not require 40 hours of work,” responded Dr. Horn, adding that it only increases the hours of work required from 20 to 24. “The other 16 hours can be used for any activities reasonably connected to the goals of the TANF program,” he said, adding that, “volunteering at school could go toward that 16 hours.”

Sen. Dodd expressed concern that increasing the work requirements would mean that parents would be away from the home for a longer period of time. “The math doesn’t add up,” he said. “We’re offering lots of flexibility to the states,” and regarding child care, “we’re underserving the eligible population,” he continued, adding that, “Head Start is not child care.”

“I agree,” answered Dr. Horn, explaining, “We share the same goals.” He said that the percentage served “is a lot greater than the 12-13 percent that you suggest,” and added, “the 12 percent assumes the only funding is coming from the CCDBG.” He told the committee that “we’re serving about 47 percent.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “We all sense there is a huge problem here.” She asserted that her state is not recovering from the economic downturn and that only “27 percent of eligible children are getting child care,” and 13,000 are on a waiting list. “These are families who have been told they have to go to work,” she said. “Most of our welfare parents will not be in 9-5 jobs,” she added.

Dr. Horn agreed. “Not every job is a 9-5 job,” he said, and told Sen. Murray that “we need to put more significant funds into technical assistance.”

Sen. Murray responded, “States have technical assistance. What they don’t have are funds for child care.”

The second panel included a representative from the research community and a parent. Vicky Flamand, a single mother from Florida with a two-year-old daughter, shared her experiences trying “to provide a safe and stable environment for myself and my child while struggling to work and go to school.” She told the subcommittees that she makes $13,500 and until recently, received child care assistance through the county in which she lives. “Due to a lack of funds in Florida this year, my daughter and I have been placed on a waiting list for child care help, along with 358 other families” in the local area “and over 46,000 other families in the state.”

Mark Greenberg of the Center for Law and Social Policy told the subcommittees that a range of child care issues must be addressed in reauthorizing TANF and the CCDBG, including “better coordination, improved data collection, simplified administration, better information about quality initiatives, and stronger technical assistance.” He also highlighted the importance of providing “adequate child care resources to address the increased needs associated with increased work requirements” and stressed that “the increased availability of child care has been linked to an increased likelihood that mothers will be employed.”

Mr. Greenberg also pointed out that there has been a “dramatic increase in employment among low-income mothers in recent years.” However, “much of that employment has been in low-wage jobs,” he said, adding that child care costs for everyone are high, “but represent a larger share of income for low-income working families.”

He called TANF funds “the principle engine driving child care expansion in the last five years.” He cautioned the subcommittees that TANF funds most likely will not play the same role in the future “because these funds are fully committed by the states,” and because caseloads will not continue to fall as they have in the past five years. “It will be impossible for states to make significant progress or even maintain current levels of assistance to families, if reauthorization does not provide adequate child care funding.”

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