Like many mothers, North Dakota state Rep. 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 region, took Lennon to meetings with locals. leaders and voters.
O’Brien had her second daughter, Jolene, in 2022, shortly before lawmakers met. Wanting more time to bond before returning to work, O’Brien took the newborn to Bismarck, where he slept while listening to Gov. Doug Burgum’s State of the State address at his mother’s desk.
Not long after, O’Brien persuaded his colleagues to back a plan to invest $66 million in child care, an unprecedented sum for a state that, like others with Republican leadership, had long resisted such spending. . But O’Brien argued it could help the state’s labor shortage by help more parents go to work and attract new families to the state.
“It was definitely not an easy sell, because it’s probably a place where you don’t want the government to get involved,” O’Brien said. “But it is a solution for the workforce. “We have people who are willing and able to work, but finding child care was an obstacle.”
Republicans have historically been lukewarm about using taxpayer dollars for child care, even as they have embraced kindergarten. But the pandemic, which left many child care providers in crisis, underscored how precarious the industry is and how many working parents depend on it.
In 2021, Congress approved $24 billion in pandemic aid for child care businesses, an unprecedented federal investment. Now, like that help runs outRepublican state lawmakers across the country are adopting plans to support child care, even making it central to their policy agendas.
To be sure, the biggest investments in child care come not from Republicans but from Democratic lawmakers. In New Mexico, the state covers child care for most children under age 5 through a trust. financed by oil and natural gas production. In Vermont, Democratic state lawmakers overrode a Republican governor’s veto to approve a payroll tax increase. to finance child care subsidies.
Red states are doing the same with more modest, but nonetheless historic, investments in child care.
In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson proposed spending nearly $130 million to help low-income families access child care once pandemic relief money runs out and creating tax credits to support child care providers. childcare.
Republican state Rep. Brenda Shields, who sponsored the tax credit bill, said she tells her conservative colleagues that child care accessibility is critical to growing the state’s economy.
“Child care is critical infrastructure, just like roads, bridges, ports and trains,” Shields said. “Companies have been asking, ‘What are you doing about child care?’ That’s why I’m trying to be part of the solution.”
Elsewhere, Louisiana last year approved a record $52 million for child care subsidies for low-income families. Alabama provided $17 million worth of incentives for child care providers to become licensed. And Texas voters approved a property tax cut for some daycares.
More Republicans have pledged to address the child care crisis this year. In Missouri, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Republican, said he hoped the House would focus less on cultural war issues – like criminalizing drag shows and censoring library books – and more on expanding access to child care and school choice.
Nebraska and Indiana have introduced programs to make child care free for child care workers. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who ran on a conservative education agenda, proposed increase state spending on education and child care at 180 million dollars.
Child care advocates say the investments are not enough and asked Congress to authorize a new round of money to keep the child care industry afloat. Daycares already report increasing enrollment and losing workers because they no longer receive federal subsidies. Some have folded.
Republican Party resistance to child care spending dates back to the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon vetoed a bill to establish a national child care system, citing fears of communism and saying it had “weakening implications.” the family”. Many of those arguments persist. Some conservative lawmakers have criticized child care funding as “socialist”, arguing that people who cannot afford daycare should not have children. Two years ago, an Idaho state lawmaker apologized after opposing federal early childhood money because it encouraged women to “leaving home and let others raise their children.”
The new and expanded funding reflects a growing sentiment that the country’s broken child care system will not be fixed without public support. Families have long faced problems finding affordable and reliable child care. But during the pandemic, many child care workers left the industry in search of better-paying jobs and some child care centers closed permanently, exacerbating the problem.
Child care is a labor-intensive business; In some states, one person can only care for four babies at a time. Even before the pandemic, child care providers often had razor-thin margins. When families kept their children home during the pandemic, many daycares barely survived.
Many parts of the country do not have enough child care providers to offer spaces for all children. Even when spaces are available, the cost is out of reach for many families. It is a problem that disproportionately affects women, who are often the primary caregivers of children.
But lack of access to child care also keeps people out of the workforce, contributing to labor shortages in many states. Many industries have begun pushing for states to invest more in child care. One of the strongest advocates is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which surveyed a dozen states and estimated they lost billions of dollars in economic activity because of gaps in child care.
Resistance persists in many parts of the country. While North Dakota passed innovative measures to support child care, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem in South Dakota said she opposed proposals to spend state dollars to help families pay for child care.
“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 just don’t think it’s the government’s job to pay for or raise people’s children.”
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