U.S. Sen. Casey of Pa. urging ‘transformative’ investment in child care subsidies

day care children walking on street

Children from a day care walking in Philadelphia (Emma Lee/WHYY)

April McNeal is stuck in the middle when it comes to child care.

Her salary is high enough that she doesn’t qualify for the main government program that subsidizes infant and toddler care. But the cost of private care is still steep.

She pays $220 per week — or about a quarter of her income — to put her 1-year-old son,  Kadien, in a Delaware County child care center. It’s a priority for her, which means she sometimes she eschews the utility bills and others.

“It’s my only option,” McNeal said.

Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey appeared alongside McNeal Monday in Philadelphia to promote a bill aimed at helping her and other working parents. Casey and a handful of his fellow Senate Democrats have introduced a bill that would cap the amount McNeal and other parents in her situation spend on child care.

Sen. Bob Casey announcing his support for swift passage of the Child Care for Working Families Act. (Bob Casey)

Those making 150 percent of their state’s median income would be asked to spend no more than 7 percent of their personal income on child care. In Pennsylvania, families earning as much as $114,000 a year would be eligible, and the child care co-pay would continue to decrease for families making less than that. Families who earn 75 percent of their state’s median income or less would pay nothing.

Casey framed the proposal as a boost for young learners and a financial reprieve for families.

“This isn’t one of those things you just theorize about,” Casey said Monday. “We need to do this. This is essential for our workforce. It’s essential for our economy.”

Casey also wants to expand a tax credit program that allows families to claim a refund based on how much they spend for child care.

Right now, parents can get a tax credit worth 20 to 35 percent of the first $6,000 they spend on child care. Casey’s proposal would lift that cap to 50 percent and expand eligibility to more middle-income families.

In principle, child care is one of those rare areas where Democrats and President Donald Trump have common ground.

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal includes a $1 billion investment in childcare, according to NPR. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, told NPR the purpose of the one-time outlay is to “encourage innovation” and prompt private employers to pick up more of their employees’ child care costs.

Casey did not say Monday how much his bill, dubbed the Child Care for Working Families Act of 2019, would cost. He said the proposal has not yet been scored by the independent Congressional Budget Office.

The bill does, however, appropriate $20 billion in fiscal year 2020, $30 billion in fiscal year 2021, and $40 billion in fiscal year 2022 to a block grant program.

The current version of that block grant program is slated to receive a little less than $3 billion in fiscal year 2020.

Casey said he hopes there’s room for Democrats and Republicans to work together on child care. But he wants the investment to be a “transformative” one.

“[That] will have a seismic impact on the workforce and our future economy,” he said.

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