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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Take action on critical U.S. child care crisis

The Columbian
Published: May 30, 2024, 6:03am

Correction: This editorial has been edited to reflect Sen. Patty Murray’s proposal to pay for the Child Care for Working Families Act. The original editorial inaccurately explained her views.

In considering expansive and contentious legislation, it is important to heed the concerns of critics.

So we will start with Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., in discussing the proposed Child Care for Working Families Act. In a recent virtual event hosted in part by The Seattle Times, Britt pointed to the national debt and said the legislation would be “not only fiscally irresponsible but morally irresponsible.” She also said she would hesitate to keep “yet another industry waiting” for funding from an oft-dysfunctional Congress.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who also took part in the event, has introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act in each Congress since 2017. She says the legislation would fund construction of child care centers, boost wages for child care workers and cap out-of-pocket costs for families at 7 percent of their household income.

During the discussion, Britt concluded: “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? But I certainly know that all the things (Murray) talked about are critical.”

Which leads us to several thoughts. One is that the issue is, indeed, critical. During the forum, Lisa Hamilton of the Annie E. Casey Foundation noted that infant child care is more expensive than in-state college tuition in 34 states. And in 2022, according to the Education Reporting Collaborative, more than 1 in 10 young children had a parent who quit, turned down or changed a job because of child care concerns.

That lack of available, affordable care has an impact on the economy. Murray said a recent report calculated a $112 billion cost annually in lost earnings, productivity and revenue.

“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,” she said. “Right now our country is losing revenue because we don’t have a child care infrastructure.”

In wealthy nations, the typical government invests more than $14,000 per child annually in care for toddlers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the United States, the average is $500.

Murray said that 2025, when the Trump tax cuts expire for individuals, provides a window for reexamining the nation’s spending priorities. It is an “opportunity to go back and say, ‘How do we make sure our country balances our taxes along with what our needs are’ — and I think that’s where this can be paid for in a very easy way.”

Indeed, Congress should work to preserve those tax cuts on low- and middle-income families. But rather than complaining about not being able to generate Republican support for the bill, Murray should be able to provide details about the costs.

Meanwhile, Britt’s concern about fiscal responsibility is admirable but also seems disingenuous. Despite being a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee (which is chaired by Murray), she says she hasn’t read a bill of national importance that has been in the Senate longer than she has.

Instead, she is focusing her legislative efforts on the More Opportunities for Moms to Succeed Act, which would set up a new government-run website where women would be encouraged to sign up for anti-abortion resources. And then she worries that Congress is dysfunctional.

A public forum focusing on child care issues, bringing together senators with differing viewpoints, is valuable. But solutions rather than rhetoric are necessary at this point.