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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC

Mr. KERRY (for himself and Mr. Franken):

S. 1435. A bill to amend part A of title IV of the Security Act to exclude child care from the determination of the 5-year limit on assistance under the temporary assistance for needy families program, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today too many families are at risk of losing the child care assistance that helps maintain their financial stability and ensure the well-being of their children. That is why I am introducing the Children First Act to address the growing unmet need for affordable and safe child care.

Until now, most states were able to maintain their child care assistance programs through the recession due to the additional $2 billion in Federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, CCDBG, funding for 2009 and 2010 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA.

However, with only a portion of these ARRA funds being continued, and with persistent state budget gaps, many states are forced to scale back child care assistance for families. Some states' waiting lists for subsidized child care are beginning to rise and a few states have stopped or plan to stop providing child care assistance to families who are not receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, TANF, together.

Cuts and restrictions in the availability of child care assistance make it harder for parents to afford child care and have forced some parents to leave their jobs and turn to welfare programs for support. Children lose access to the stable, good-quality child care that encourages their learning and development and prepares them for school success. And child care programs can find difficulty filling their classrooms, leading them to lay off staff or close their doors entirely. That is wrong and we can do better.

Child care consumes a large portion of family budgets, and can cost up to $18,773 annually for full-time care depending on where the family lives, the type of care, and the age of the child. Child care prices are higher than other household expenses and typically exceed the average amount families spend on food. In 39 States and the District of Columbia, the average annual price for child care for an infant in a child care center was higher than even a year's tuition at some 4-year public colleges.

Without assistance, many low-income families can find it impossible to secure child care. For example, in 2007, the median monthly income of families receiving child care assistance was just $16,680 a year. Nearly half, 49 percent, of families receiving child care assistance live below the poverty line and 86 percent of these families were single parent households. In these challenging economic times, it is especially important to help low and moderate-income families with their child care costs.

The Children First Act which I am introducing today will help address the growing unmet need for affordable and safe child care. It will help--States meet the significant demand for child care assistance by increasing funding for mandatory child care by $500 million for fiscal year 2012, $700 million in 2013, and $750 million in 2014 thru 2021, resulting in an increase of $3.45 billion over 5 years and $7.2 billion over 10 years.

This increase is necessary because only about one in six children eligible for Federal child care assistance receives help and there have been no increases in mandatory' child care funding since 2007. This increased funding will be used to provide approximately 212,000 additional children access to safe and affordable child care as compared to current funding levels.

The Children First Act would exclude child care from the definition of TANF assistance so that unemployed families who receive child care assistance will not have it count towards the 5-year time limit for Federal TANF assistance. The legislation would also ensure that the minimum child care health and safety standards required for providers receiving Child Care Development Block Grant, CCDBG, funding also apply to providers who receive funding through TANF. In Massachusetts, all licensed providers are required to the same health and safety standards regardless of subsidy type received.

This legislation would increase the availability of child care for parents who are required to work. States are currently prohibited from withholding or reducing assistance to a single parent with children under 6 who does not meet work requirements for reasons related to the unavailability or unsuitability of appropriate, affordable child care arrangements. The Children First Act would prevent States from withholding or reducing cash assistance to parents of a child with children under age thirteen.

Enactment of this legislation is incredibly important for my home State of Massachusetts which currently has approximately 24,000 children on a waitlist for child care subsidies. The high cost of child care is the most significant issue facing families currently on the waitlist in Massachusetts. Massachusetts families pay more on average than families in all other states for child care, with the average price of full time care in center based settings totaling $18,773 for an infant and $13,158 for a preschooler. This legislation will help lower the waitlist and help our children become more productive citizens.

I would like to thank a number of organizations who have been integral to the development of the Children First Act and who have endorsed it today, including the including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, the Children's Defense Fund, CLASP, the National Women's Law Center, and the Service Employees International Union, SEIU.

These reforms would significantly increase access to stable and affordable child care to low-income families and would make our Nation's children more prepared for school and success later in life. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation.


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