Last week, I stood next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as five-year-old Emily handed her a poster-sized card that she made in school. The Speaker read it aloud: “Dear Speaker Nancy, thank you for coming to our school. Thank you for helping all children feel safe, strong, and free.” My heart is still warm from this touching and powerful moment. Emily’s card embodied exactly what our visit to her classroom was all about: empowering kids and in turn, our country’s future.
House Democrats were elected into the Majority with a resounding message from the American people: put people before politics. We have spent the last 100 days in the majority taking this mandate to heart; we passed legislation to guarantee equal pay for equal work, we strengthened voting rights, and we have tirelessly continued to protect people with pre-existing conditions. Last week, when Emily welcomed Speaker Pelosi, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Lori Trahan, and I to the Eliot-Pearson School on Tufts University campus, she and her classmates made it clear that we need to add another item to our policy agenda: access to quality, affordable child care.
Women are central to our workforce and always have been. Today, a majority of women with young children are working and nearly two-thirds of these moms are also caring for children under the age of six. Unfortunately, sky-high costs are eating up family savings and stopping some families from being able to access child care altogether. Think about this: according to the Economic Policy Forum, child care is considered “affordable” if it costs no more than 7% of a family’s income. By this measure, child care is affordable for less than 1 in every 5 Massachusetts families.
This cycle strains our economy and hinders our children’s pathway to academic success. At the Eliot-Pearson School, students as young as five years old were learning about electrical engineering and ethics. It was incredible! Seeing their work demonstrated the amazing things we can accomplish if we support parents in placing kids in a classroom early. But this isn’t just about getting ahead; early education is a determinant of long-term success. By third grade, children hit a crucial milestone when they transition from learning how to read, to reading to learn. Children without access to early education often fall behind before reaching this important marker.
After touring the Eliot-Pearson School and learning about the school’s pioneering work in early childhood development, we participated in a conversation with educators, parents, and community leaders. SEIU 509 member and child care provider, Celina Reyes, spoke about how difficult it was to support her own family while making only $12 an hour caring for other people’s children. Sharon Scott-Chandler, Vice President of the Action for Boston Community Development organization, asked about expanding Head Start as a tool to supplement the cost of care for lower-income families. And, Tom Clay, the CEO of Xtalic, spoke about the crucial role of family friendly business policies in order to retain a diverse workforce.
As the forum demonstrated, there isn’t one solution to tackling the child care challenge. That’s why House Democrats have a number of proposals on the table. We have introduced the Child Care For Working Families Act, a bill that would address the early learning and care crisis by allowing families to pay for child care on a sliding scale adjusted for income. The bill would also significantly increase compensation for child care workers who are among the lowest paid teachers in the country. In my role as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am proud to announce that last week, the Appropriations Committee proposed a $4 billion increase to Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCCDBG), two federal programs that put kids directly in classrooms. Last, we recognize child care is as important to the economy as roads and bridges, and we are looking for ways to support the modernization of child care facilities through our upcoming infrastructure package as a way to support operating costs.
We know that solving big problems will take big solutions, but there’s no better investment than our kids. During the forum, Speaker Pelosi told us her driving motivation in public service: the 1 in 5 American children living in poverty. As a legislative leader, she says the most important issues facing the Congress are, “Our children, our children, our children,” and I could not agree more.
We have a lot of work to do and House Democrats are focused on the right goal: giving every family and child a shot at success. Stay tuned!