With Bernie Sanders’s unveiling of his Medicare for All universal health-care plan, there seems to be building momentum to reshape our social-welfare system in Washington, Trump be damned. So maybe now it’s time for another kind of care that’s eating up our family budgets: preschool. Progressive lawmakers have presented a straightforward policy fix for this desperate are of need: ensuring that no family is priced out of the childcare that they need to raise a healthy family.
Working families across the country are suffering from a childcare market that is both broken and broke: The cost of care is impossibly high, yet childcare workers earn poverty wages, and many communities lack quality programs.
Despite a growing recognition that early education is crucial for children’s social and cognitive development, the contradictory knot of prohibitive costs, lagging wages, and under-resourced classrooms demands a government-led intervention to provide equity for the low-income families, teachers, and mothers who carry disproportionate care-giving burdens.
The “Childcare for Working Families” legislation put forward by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Bobby Scott offers subsidies determined by a sliding-scale scheme, based on a state’s cost of living: No family making up to 50 percent above the median income—roughly $100,000—would have to pay more than 7 percent of its household income for childcare. For families earning up to 75 percent of the state’s median income, childcare would be free. Even families left with a copay would gain a huge discount, since daycare center programs in high-cost areas can swallow 40 to 80 percent of a typical household’s income (sometimes exceeding monthly rent or public-college tuition in tight markets like Washington, DC’s). Funds could be used to expand existing statewide preschool programs or, in states lacking a central program, new childcare programs for infants through pre-kindergarten.
The bill lays out an ambitious cost estimate, providing tens of billions a year in flexible grants to states. It will be a heavy lift in a Congress with welfare cuts on its mind. But despite the plan’s costs, it ultimately offers roughly 26 million families and their communities a massive bargain, by ensuring that children’s daycare fees don’t bankrupt working moms and teaching preschool won’t put teachers on food stamps.