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Build Back Better has gaps in child care funding

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The pandemic has exposed many inequities in American life. Access to affordable child care is chief among them. 

Nearly one in five working parents surveyed in 2020 had to leave work or reduce their work hours due to a lack of child care, and almost two-thirds said they had no backup child care whatsoever. Women between the ages of 25 and 44 were three times more likely than men to quit their job due to pandemic-related child care needs. Low-income families of color have been hardest hit. 

Kelley Murphy

Fortunately, Congress is nearing an agreement on child care and universal preschool provisions as part of the Build Back Better Act, which includes $400 billion for child care programs. While we strongly support this once-in-a-generation investment, there are significant issues that – unless corrected – will leave many Arizona families behind and have significant economic and workforce implications.    

As currently drafted, the legislation calls for these child care funds to flow through two programs – one for children under the age of 5 and another for children ages 3-5. But there’s a catch: states will only receive funding if they opt in to one or both programs. Although the program provides a generous 95% federal match to participating states, dozens of states may opt out for political or budgetary reasons. 

If Arizona fails to opt in, countless families will be unable to afford child care. That’s why it’s critical the program be structured in a way that encourages states to participate and provides sufficient funding by other means in states that don’t – namely, by increasing child care dollars available directly to local governments and extending the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.  

Kylie Barber

The current version of the Build Back Better Act only includes $1 billion in child care aid for localities, and has excised the tax credit provision entirely. Without it, if Arizona doesn’t opt in to accept federal assistance, a family of four earning between $65,000-$125,000/year could spend as much as one-third of their income on child care alone. 

Fully funding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit is essential to enabling women to rejoin the U.S. labor force, where their participation rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1988. 

As leaders of Children’s Action Alliance and the Arizona Early Childhood Alliance, we know the early years of a child’s life are most critical in their development. There is no better investment our society can make. 

While we commend President Biden and Congress for making early childhood care and education a priority in the Build Back Better Act, the legislation includes critical gaps that may leave too many Arizona families behind and our economy hobbled. We urge Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Kelly and Arizona’s entire congressional delegation to address these issues, which will go a long way toward making child care more affordable for all. 

Kylie Barber is alliance coordinator for the Arizona Early Childhood Alliance; and Kelley Murphy is vice president of policy for Children’s Action Alliance. 

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