New spending bill includes $1 billion in funding for child care – Marketplace

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The child care crisis in America just got a bit of relief. In the latest government funding bill just approved by the White House, there’s a $1 billion increase for programs focused on child care and early childhood learning.

This new funding includes an additional $275 million for the Head Start program and $725 million for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. That’s roughly a 30% increase in the funds, which states choose how to spend.

“One way that states might choose to use this increased funding is to increase subsidy eligibility thresholds,” said Susan Gale Perry, CEO of the nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. “Which means more families would have access to help paying for child care. It may also be used for things like improving the rates that states pay for child care providers so that they can, in turn, attract and retain qualified staff and increase the quality of their programs.”

The increase brings the program totals to about $21 billion. Child care advocates say that reflects bipartisan support for early childhood education.

“We got this $1 billion increase that’s going to help the programs that exist, but we need so much more,” noted Julie Kashen, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

These new funds show Congress’ growing awareness of the lack of affordable child care in the U.S., Kashen said. But “right now, we need $16 billion in emergency child care funding to make sure that the child care sector can be stable on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Because even with this boost in funding, existing programs are only serving a fraction of eligible families, according to Sarah Rittling, who runs the First Five Years Fund, a D.C.-based children’s advocacy group.

For example, through those Child Care and Development Block Grants to states, “14% of eligible families are served with the $8 billion-plus that we have,” she said.

And when it comes to Head Start — which provides support for low income children and their families — “we’re serving roughly 36% of eligible families and 11% of eligible families in early Head Start, so we have our work cut out for us,” said Rittling.

Still, advocates say this increase in funding is a win — especially given the extremely contentious process and tight budgets that led to the final appropriations agreement.

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