More Republicans treating child care as workforce issue, supporting higher spending

Like many moms, North Dakota state representative Emily O'Brien struggled to find child care when her daughter Lennon was born in 2019. So O'Brien, a Republican who represents the Grand Forks area, brought Lennon to meetings with locals. Leaders and constituents.

O'Brien's second daughter, Jolene, was born in 2022, shortly before the legislators were scheduled to meet. Wanting more time to bond before returning to work, O'Brien brought the newborn with her to Bismarck, where she missed Governor Doug Burgum's State of the State address at her mother's desk.

Shortly afterward, O'Brien persuaded his colleagues to support a plan to invest $66 million in child care, an unprecedented amount for a state that, like others with Republican leadership, Had opposed such expenditure for a long time. But O'Brien argued it could alleviate the state's workforce shortage by helping more parents go to work and attracting new families to the state.

O'Brien said, "It certainly wasn't, you know, an easy sell, because this is probably where you don't want the government to get involved." "But this is a workforce solution. We have people who are willing and able to work, but taking care of children was a barrier."

Republicans have historically been lukewarm about using taxpayer money for child care, even when they have embraced prekindergarten. But the pandemic, which left many child care providers in crisis, underlined how precarious the industry is and how many working parents depend on it.

In 2021, Congress passed $24 billion in pandemic aid for child care businesses, an unprecedented federal investment. Now, as that aid expires, Republican state lawmakers across the country are adopting plans to help support child care — and even making it the center of their policy agendas.

Certainly, the biggest investments in child care have come not from Republican but from Democratic lawmakers. In New Mexico, the state is covering child care for most children under 5 using a trust funded by oil and natural gas production. In Vermont, Democratic state lawmakers overrode the Republican governor's veto to pass a payroll tax increase to fund child care subsidies.

Red states are following suit with more modest — but still historic — investments in child care.

In Missouri, Republican Governor Mike Parson has proposed spending about $130 million to help low-income families afford child care and create a tax credit to support child care providers when pandemic relief money expires.

Republican state Rep. Brenda Shields, who sponsored the tax credit bill, said she tells conservative colleagues that access to child care is vital to growing the state's economy.

"Like roads and bridges and ports and trains, child care is a critical infrastructure," Shields said. "Businesses are saying, 'What are you doing about child care?' So I'm trying to be part of the solution."

Elsewhere, Louisiana last year approved an unprecedented $52 million for child care subsidies for low-income families. Alabama offered $17 million worth of incentives for child care providers to obtain licenses. And Texas voters approved property tax cuts for some day care centers.

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More Republicans have promised to tackle the child care crisis this year. In Missouri, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Republican, said he hoped the statehouse would focus less on culture war issues — like criminalizing drag shows and censoring library books — and more on child care. and will focus more on increasing access to school choice. Both Nebraska and Indiana have programs to make child care free for child care workers. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who ran on a conservative education agenda, advocated increasing the state's child care and education spending by $180 million.

Child care advocates say the investment is not enough and called on Congress to authorize a new round of funding to keep the child care industry running. Already, day care centers are reporting they are raising tuition and losing staff because they no longer receive federal subsidies. Some have turned.

GOP resistance to spending on child care dates back to the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon, citing fears of communism and saying it had "family-debilitating effects," established a national child care system. The bill to do so was vetoed. Many of those arguments hold. Some Conservative MPs have slammed child care funding as "socialist", arguing that people who cannot afford day care should not have children. Two years ago, an Idaho state legislator apologized after opposing federal early childhood money because it encouraged women to "get out of the home and let others raise their children."

The new and expanded funding reflects a growing sense that the country's broken child care system won't be fixed without public support. Families have long faced problems finding affordable, reliable child care. But during the pandemic, many child care workers left the industry for better-paying jobs, and some child care centers closed permanently, exacerbating the problem.

Child care is a labor-heavy enterprise – in some states, one person can care for only four infants at a time. Even before the pandemic, child care providers often had very thin margins. When families kept their children at home during the pandemic, many were barely hanging on to daily care.

In many parts of the country there are not enough child care providers to provide slots for all the children. Even when slots are available, the cost remains out of reach for many families. It's a problem that disproportionately affects women, who are typically the primary caregivers of children.

But lack of access to child care is also keeping people out of the workforce, leading to labor shortages in many states. Many industries have begun lobbying states to invest more in child care. One of the strongest supporters is the US. There's the Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which surveyed a dozen states and estimated that child care gaps cost them billions of dollars in lost economic activity.

Protests continue in many parts of the country. While North Dakota passed unprecedented measures to support child care, Republican Governor Kristi Noem in South Dakota said she opposed proposals to spend state dollars to help families pay for child care. Did.

"The one thing ... I'm not willing to do is directly subsidize child care for families," Noem recently told KWAT News in Watertown, South Dakota. "I don't think it's the government's job to pay people or raise their children."

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