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News / Northwest

Senators Murray, Britt questioned about U.S. child care crisis, solutions

By Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times
Published: May 24, 2024, 9:43am

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray made her case for a sweeping overhaul of child care in America and addressed pushback from Sen. Katie Britt in a public forum co-hosted Wednesday by The Seattle Times.

The Washington Democrat and Alabama Republican joined Lisa Hamilton of the Annie E. Casey Foundation for the live, virtual event moderated by The Times and Alabama’s largest news outlet, AL.com, to explore child care challenges and solutions for communities across the country.

The cost of infant child care is more than in-state college tuition in 34 states, Hamilton noted. In 2022, more than 1 in 10 young children had a parent who had to quit, turn down or drastically change a job in the previous year because of child care problems, according to the Education Reporting Collaborative, a national partnership including The Times and AL.com. The collaborative is focusing on the child care crisis this year.

“How did we get here? Because our nation has never seriously taken the issue of child care as an incredibly important foundation to our economy,” Murray said as the 45-minute-long forum got underway.

“It has been a silent problem for many, many years,” she added. “Parents just struggled with it. They either didn’t take a job or they left the job market or they had child care that wasn’t safe.”

Repeatedly since 2017, Murray has introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, which the five-term senator says would fund the construction of child care centers, boost wages for child care workers and cap out-of-pocket costs for families at 7% of their household income. But she’s been unable to secure bipartisan support for the proposal, she acknowledged Wednesday.

“Right now we have [42] co-sponsors who are Democrats,” said Murray, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. “We’re also reaching across the aisle and looking to get Republican support.”

Britt, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who delivered the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s 2024 State of the Union Address, questioned Murray’s proposal after complimenting the veteran Democrat. Murray and Britt have recently clashed over Britt’s proposed More Opportunities for Moms to Succeed Act, which would set up a new government-run website, pregnancy.gov, where women would be encouraged to sign up for anti-abortion resources.

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“Sen. Murray has done a tremendous job in this area, digging in and figuring out what are the issues and how do we solve them,” Britt said Wednesday, referring to child care.

But Britt said she would hesitate to keep “yet another industry waiting” for funding from an often dysfunctional Congress. She also raised concerns about the spending Murray’s bill could require, calling it “not only fiscally irresponsible but morally irresponsible,” given the country’s debt picture.

“So I think probably, having not looked at it, my initial thought is, ‘How do we have this work? How are we judicious in it?’” Britt concluded. “But I certainly know that all the things [Murray] talked about are critical.”

In response, Murray said her bill’s undetermined costs could be covered by money the country will save when Trump-era tax cuts expire next year.

“I think what I heard Katie saying is, “It’s a great idea, but it’s going to cost us something,” Murray said. “Yeah, when you invest in infrastructure it does cost something.”

According to a recent report, the child care crisis is already costing the U.S. economy $112 billion annually in lost earnings, productivity and revenue, she added.

“Right now our country is losing revenue because we don’t have a child care infrastructure, so we have to look at it that way,” she said.

Murray, Britt and Hamilton also discussed state-level solutions, including tax credits for families or child care centers, and the Casey Foundation president and CEO mentioned a need to protect centers from rent increases.

This series on how the child care crisis affects working parents — with a focus on solutions — is produced by the Education Reporting Collaborative, a coalition of eight newsrooms, including The Seattle Times, AL.com, The Associated Press, The Christian Science Monitor, The Dallas Morning News, The Hechinger Report, Idaho Education News and The Post & Courier. Visit st.news/solutions to read more stories in this series.