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Bipartisan Bill to Help American Families Access Safe, Affordable, and Quality Child Care Clears Senate

Senators Harkin, Alexander, Mikulski, and Burr Are Authors of the Bipartisan “Child Care and Development Block Grant Act,” Unanimously Approved by the Senate HELP Committee in September 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Bipartisan legislation to help American families access safe, affordable, and quality child care has cleared the Senate with strong support from senators on both sides of the aisle. U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Richard Burr (R-NC) released the following statements today after the Senate passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014, a bipartisan reauthorization that will improve the quality of child care for the more than 1.5 million children and families that benefit from the federal child care subsidy program. The law has been due for reauthorization since 2002.

Harkin and Alexander are chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, while Mikulski and Burr are the former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families. The legislation, which was unanimously approved by the Committee in September 2013, represents the 17th bipartisan HELP Committee bill in the 113th Congress to be approved by the full Senate. Ten of those bills have already been signed into law.

“We know that learning begins at birth, and the preparation for learning begins before birth. That’s why access to high-quality child care and early education programs are so critically important,” Chairman Harkin said. “The updates to this bill will ensure that the Child Care Block Grant program is both a support for working families as well as rich early-learning opportunity for children, including infants and toddlers and children with disabilities. This bill is a testament to how Congress can enact meaningful change by working together across party lines. I am encouraged by the HELP Committee’s growing record of bipartisan accomplishments.”

“Washington ideas are often big and burdensome with lots of rules, but this child care program has survived for more than two decades with a simple idea: Give states grants so they can help low-income parents pay for the child care that best suits their families,” Ranking Member Alexander said. “This year it helped the parents of about 1.5 million children receive child care so they could go to work or get an education and move up the economic ladder and reach the American dream. I am pleased the Senate passed it today after a good debate, during which senators had the opportunity to offer amendments and get votes on those amendments, and I hope we can achieve more good results like this.”

“Today’s bipartisan action by the Senate to refresh and reform the vitally important CCDBG program is good news that will bring peace of mind to the thousands of Maryland families who rely upon this program for child care. I introduced this legislation to ensure that child care across America is available, affordable, reliable, safe and exceptional,” Senator Mikulski said. “Child care is something all families worry about regardless of their zip code or the size of their wallet. We all say that children are one of our most important resources – which means that child care is one of our most important decisions. For more than 1.5 million American families, including 19,000 in Maryland, CCDBG provides a lifeline so that all children have the care that they need and deserve. Updating this vitally important child care program will help support those who care for our children, give parents peace of mind that their children are safe and receiving quality care, and better prepare our children for the future. It will help keep working parents at work while ensuring children have a safe environment that provides them the skills they need to begin to develop their potential and be better prepared for school.”

“I am pleased my colleagues passed the bipartisan Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This is how the Senate should run -- with mutual respect and productive conversation,” Senator Burr said. “Our working together made sure that our hardest working parents have access to quality, safe child care.  Through years of negotiations, meetings with hundreds of interested stakeholders, and honest conversations with my colleagues in the Senate, we have taken a positive step toward ensuring our kids are protected while in child care. This is a good day for the United States Senate, our working parents, and their children.  I urge my colleagues in the House to pass this legislation.”  

When the CCDBG program was last reauthorized in 1996, the program rightly focused primarily on workforce aid. But in the intervening years, more has been learned about the necessity of not just providing children with a place to go, but also the importance of providing them with high-quality care. Last Congress, Mikulski and Burr held three public hearings—consulting with parents, childcare providers and early learning and developmental experts and other child care advocacy organizations—to explore how best the CCDBG program could be reauthorized and improved.

The CCDBG reauthorization bill incorporates feedback and suggestions provided to the Committee since 2012. The bill requires states to devote more of their funding to quality initiatives, such as: training, professional development, and professional advancement of the child care workforce. The bill ensures that CCDBG providers meet certain health and safety requirements related to prevention and control of infectious diseases, first aid and CPR, child abuse prevention, administration of medication, prevention of and response to emergencies due to food allergies, prevention of sudden infant death syndrome and shaken baby syndrome, building and physical premises safety, and emergency response planning. The legislation gives families more stability in the CCDBG program and works to improve early childhood care also by requiring states to focus on infant and toddler quality initiatives. Finally, the bill requires mandatory background checks for child care providers in the CCDBG program.

A summary of the bill can be seen here.