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New GOP Child Care Plan Seeks Subsidy Expansion For Working, Middle-Class Parents. What About Those Sacrificing To Stay Home?

While Democrats demand new entitlement programs to enhance the affordability of child care, Republicans are debuting alternative solutions.

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While Democrats demand new entitlement programs to enhance the affordability of American child care, Republicans are debuting alternative solutions with diverging mechanisms for parental relief.

In April last year, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley proposed the Parent Tax Credit, offering families with children under 13 years old $6,000 in relief for single parents and $12,000 for parents who were married. Last month, however, a pair of Republican senators instead proposed to expand eligibility for pre-existing subsidies under the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

“The Democrats’ child care proposals would take a wrecking ball to our child care system and replace it with a one-size-fits-all approach that limits families’ options,” said GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina in a press release on the block grant’s Reauthorization Act of 2022. “I believe there is a better way. This bill improves upon a program that has already helped families afford a variety of options to care for the most important people in their lives: their kids.”

The existing program has been the primary mechanism for supporting child care for low-income families for 30 years. Scott’s proposal, introduced with North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr and seven original co-sponsors, builds on that program by loosening restrictions for eligibility to include the middle class. It expands family eligibility for thousands of dollars in subsidies to those who make 150 percent of their state’s median income.

In a joint op-ed for the Deseret, Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Jenet Jacob Erickson of Brigham Young University faulted the Burr-Scott bill for its apparent emphasis on working parents, which disincentivizes a parent from staying at home to care for their children.

“The problem is that this bill would end up steering thousands of dollars in child care subsidies to middle- and working-class families with two parents in the labor force and offer nothing to similar families who have made a considerable financial sacrifice to have one parent at home,” they wrote, outlining research on the benefits of stay-at-home parenting. “By seeking to expand eligibility for child care subsidies into the middle class without including any subsidies for stay-at-home parents, the Republican proposal could push hundreds of thousands of kids into institutional daycare.”

Wilcox and Erickson cited a study in Quebec, Canada, where the government’s push for child care left kids more susceptible to “worse health, lower life satisfaction and higher crime rates later in life.”

Another study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, they wrote, “found that extensive hours in day care for young children, starting in infancy, were associated with negative social-emotional outcomes for kids.”

Republicans behind the Burr-Scott proposal disputed the premise of the pair’s criticism, highlighting the text of the proposal that explicitly offers grant eligibility to two-parent households where at least one meets the work requirements. A family still qualifies for a child care subsidy “if the spouse of such provider is engaged in an eligible activity.”

In an email to The Federalist, Wilcox called the bill discriminatory for parents who’ve chosen to raise their children at home as opposed to a daycare center by offering no benefits for homebound kids.

“The Scott-Burr plan does discriminate against working- and middle-class families with stay-at-home parents who have made the choice to care for their young children entirely at home,” wrote Wilcox, who also called the legislative text unclear. “It would be helpful for Republicans to specify in the [Child Care and Development Block Grant] bill that two-parent families with a stay-at-home parent and a worker are eligible for a CCDBG voucher. Such a voucher could be used for preschool, for instance.”

The use of such a voucher, however, would still mean children are cared for outside the home.

A senior GOP aide to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, however, said that such parents would still get a voucher.

“The parent can then use that money for whatever they want. There are no requirements to submit receipts to the government as to how the money is spent. So a parent could use it to pay for child care, they could use it to pay for preschool, they could use it to pay for books or whatever,” the aide said. “So there is no lack of clarity here. We’re happy to consider additional improvements to make it MORE clear, but it is inaccurate to say that our language doesn’t do what we all agree the language should do.”

Wilcox celebrated the bill’s provisions allowing vouchers to be spent on a wide array of child care centers.

“What I like about the Scott-Burr plan is that it underlines the importance of giving parents the choice of where to send their child when it comes to child care or preschool,” Wilcox said. “In particular, it protects the rights of parents to send their children to a religious preschool, for instance.”

Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who previously served as a senior policy adviser to the congressional Joint Economic Committee, also lauded the bill’s expansion of parental choice in terms of the child care services eligible for voucher use, including faith-based, home-based, and community-based organizations.

“At the end of the day, we should be expanding parents’ choices,” Brown told The Federalist, adding that his primary issue with the bill was the generosity of payments. “One-hundred and fifty percent state median income in some states is making six figures, and I don’t think it makes sense for the government, certainly not Republicans, to cap child care co-pay figures at 7 percent for that population as this bill would.”

Brown said he was less concerned about potential benefit discrimination of two-parent households, as Wilcox raised, citing that 80 percent of children who currently receive Child Care and Development Block Grant funds are from single-parent homes already.

“The logic of providing assistance to predominantly low-income single parents makes sense to me, but once you start reaching into the middle class, that’s where it starts to break down,” he said.

Scott’s office defended the bill as a narrowly tailored proposal compared to the Democrats’ demands for a new entitlement program.

“The [Child Care and Development Block Grant] program is a long-standing, widely successful solution to give American parents the support and flexibility they need to care for their children. The bill Senator Scott is leading builds on the program while ensuring that it remains tailored to those who need it most, rather than the Democrat approach of having taxpayers foot the bill for a massive, inefficient, government-run child care system,” a spokesman told The Federalist. “As conservatives, we believe that state and local leaders, not the federal bureaucracy, best understand the needs of their communities, and to that end, this legislation includes a provision that empowers states to craft eligibility requirements that best meet the needs of families in those states.”

An aide for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, an original co-sponsor of the bill, highlighted the proposal’s flexibility.

“The Democrats’ Build Back Better plan would have pushed families into government-controlled centers while eliminating this popular voucher program. Importantly, this need-based program does not push people into child care who would otherwise stay at home,” the aide told The Federalist. “Instead, it empowers parents to afford the best child care for their children while they work to provide for their family. The bill also eliminates regulatory barriers to opening new home-based child care in rural areas, further increasing options for families.”