Child Care Bill Passes Committee!

On September 18, 2013, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved legislation (S. 1086) to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which allocates funds to states for child care – to help families afford the cost of child care and assist states in improving the quality of child care.

CCDBG Markup

CCDBG Markup

While Congress is supposed to review laws periodically to adjust them for new research, best practices, and to address any shortcomings not foreseen when bills are drafted (a process referred to as reauthorization,  which generally occurs every 5 years on average), it has been 17 years since CCDBG was last reauthorized in 1996. Much has been learned during the intervening years from the science of brain development to the child care policies within states.  For example, national studies have shown that most state child care policies are weak and the oversight of those policies is even weaker.  The Senate HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families held 3 hearings prior to approving the legislation today:

Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013 Highlights

In Brief:  The CCDBG reauthorization bill improves the quality of child care by requiring basic health and safety protections for children whose care is paid for by taxpayer dollars.  The funds set-aside for state activities to improve the quality of care are tightened up for more accountability for the use of those dollars.  In addition, more emphasis would be placed on strengthening the child care workforce, the cornerstone of quality child care.

Child Safety:

  • The measure requires comprehensive background checks for child care providers who are receiving federal subsidies to care for low income children. A comprehensive background check includes a fingerprint check against state and federal records, a check of the state child abuse registry and a check of the sex offender registry.
  • If a state uses federal funds to support unlicensed child care with taxpayer dollars, states would be required to explain how such care will not endanger the health, safety, or development of children.
  • To protect the health and safety of children in child care, states would be required to ensure that child care providers have training in the following topics:  prevention of shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma, the prevention and control of infectious diseases, handwashing and universal health precautions, the administration of medication (consistent with standards for parental consent), the prevention of and response to emergencies due to food and other allergic reactions, the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and use of safe sleep practices, building and physical premises safety, emergency preparedness and response planning, the handling and storage of hazardous materials, the identification of and protection from hazards that can cause bodily injury such as electrical hazards, bodies of water, and vehicular traffic, transportation precautions (if applicable), first aid and CPR, minimum health and safety training to be completed prior to caring for children or during an orientation period.

Accountability for Child Care Programs:

  • The measure requires an inspection before a provider is licensed to care for children (or receives a subsidy in the case of an unlicensed child care setting) and requires at least one annual unannounced inspection.  Inspection results are required to be posted on the internet so that parents can make informed decisions when selecting child care.

Parent Resources:

  • The measure requires that states disseminate information in a manner so that parents can better understand the quality of care when they look at potential child care options. States would be required to pass along information about child care licensing, background checks, inspections, programs participating in state quality rating systems and their level of quality.
  • Parents would also receive information about other federal and state programs for which they might quality, demystifying some of the programs that once navigated could really make a difference to a family with young children, including information about developmental screenings so that children with a disability or developmental delay can be identified earlier to receive services.
  • States may use funds to establish or support a system of local or regional child care resource and referral organizations to provide parents with consumer information concerning child care options, particularly to assist parents in enrolling children in high quality care.

Child Care Quality:

  • The current 4 percent quality set-aside would be increased to 10 percent over 5 years with an additional 3 percent for quality activities related to infant and toddler care.
  • States would be required to provide a set of workforce and competency standards for child care providers that incorporate knowledge and application of the state’s early learning guidelines and the state’s child development and health standards.  In developing these policies, states would be required to develop a statewide progression of professional development designed to strengthen the child care workforce.
  • The measure requires states to conduct a market rate survey of child care prices every two years, requires that the survey be statistically valid and reliable and reflect variations in the cost of child care by geographic area, type of provider, and age of the child.  States would be required to use the survey in setting child care subsidy rates, taking into consideration the cost of providing higher quality care and to the extent practicable, increase rates without reducing the number of families served. States would be required to have policies that pay providers in a timely manner.
  • From the quality set-aside, states would be required to engage in at least two of the following activities:
    • Supporting the training, professional development, and professional advancement of the child care workforce;
    • Supporting the use of the early learning and developmental guidelines by developing and implementing ELGs and by providing technical assistance to promote language and literacy skills, foster school readiness, and support later school success;
    • Developing and implementing a tiered quality rating and improvement system;
    • Improving the supply and quality of child care programs and services for infants and toddlers;
    • Promoting broad child care provider participation in QRIS programs;
    • Establishing or expanding a statewide system of child care resource & referral services;
    • Facilitating compliance with state requirements for inspection, monitoring, training and health and safety with state licensing;
    • Evaluating and assessing the quality and effectiveness of child care programs, including how services may improve a child’s school readiness;
    • Supporting child care providers in obtaining accreditation;
    • Supporting state or local efforts to develop or adopt high quality program standards; and
    • Carrying out other activities that a state determines improves the quality of care for which measurement of outcomes related to improve provider preparedness, child safety, child well-being or school readiness is possible.

Protections for Working Parents:

  • The measure requires a 12 month eligibility period for child care assistance before eligibility is re-determined. (Continuity of care is very important to children and with modest fluctuations in income in low wage jobs, care should be taken to promote continuity for children despite modest family income fluctuations- as long as family income does not exceed 85 of state median income).
  • Payment practices for children receiving a subsidy would be required to reflect generally accepted payment practices of child care providers in the community.

Upon consideration of the bill today, Senator Harkin (D-IA), the Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee said, “child care is a critical support for virtually every working parent.”  He gave credit to Committee members Senator Mikulski  (D-MD), the former Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families and current Appropriations Committee Chair,  and Senator Burr (R-NC), a longstanding member of the Senate HELP Committee as well as Children and Families Subcommittee.

Senator Mikulski said, “It’s a really good day today. This is the way that the Senate should work. The bill is a result of a significant bipartisan effort…. Finding pragmatic solutions, focused on the needs of the child….”.  Senator Burr added, “we took time to listen to views across the country.  CCDBG has not been reauthorized in 17 years. Parents need information about who is providing good care and who is not. This bill will lead to safer child care so that federal tax dollars are not used in settings that would compromise the safety of children.”  Senator Alexander (R-TN), the ranking member of the HELP Committee explained that “child care can be the most difficult obstacle for working mothers.”

The next step is for the full Senate to consider the bill. It’s not clear at this time when that will happen, but what is clear is that few bills in Congress today have such broad bipartisan support.  It is long past the time when CCDBG should be reauthorized.  Today’s action is good news.  Contact your Senator today and ask for his or her support for the legislation. The message is easy:  Children should be safe in child care. Please support the Senate HELP Committee bill and pass it this fall.