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Mikulski Co-Chairs Child Care Hearing

June 15th, 2016 by WCBC Radio

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today co-chaired a bipartisan HELP Committee hearing together with Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The hearing entitled Implementing the Child Care Development Block Grant Act of 2014: Perspectives of Stakeholders focused on the challenges different states face in implementing the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in order to improve access to safe, affordable and quality child care that gets kids ready for school.

“Working parents across Maryland and the nation rely on child care that is available, affordable, reliable, safe and exceptional. That’s what every parent wants for their children,”Senator Mikulski said. “Child care is something all families worry about, regardless of income or zip code. The CCDBG program has given many families over many years peace of mind that their child is well taken care of.”

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 is improving program quality, addressing the nutritional and physical activity needs of children in child care settings, strengthening coordination and alignment to contribute to a more comprehensive early childhood education and care system, better meeting the needs of children with disabilities in the program, providing much-needed stability to families, and improving health and safety standards for providers. It ensures that the critical CCDBG program continues to help families access safe, affordable, quality child care that gets kids ready for school. CCDBG serves more than 1.4 million children each month, including approximately 18,000 in Maryland, while their parents work, attend school or receive job training.

High-quality early childhood education and care has been proven to have positive, lasting effects for children and families, especially since the greatest period of brain development is from birth to age five. High-quality early childhood education and care also supports the nation’s long-term economic security by preparing the next generation of workers, entrepreneurs and business leaders for the jobs of tomorrow.

The hearing featured two panels of witnesses. The first panel included testimony from Linda Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. The second panel included testimony from Margaret Williams, Executive Director, Maryland Family Network in Baltimore, Md.; Sheila Hoyle, Executive Director, Southwestern Child Development Commission in Webster, N.C.; Ms. Le’Vaughn Johnson Westbrook, a parent from Falls Church, Va.; and Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, Commissioner, Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, Hartford, Conn.

Senator Mikulski’s opening remarks, as prepared, follow:

“I am pleased to be here this morning to co-chair today’s hearing with Senator Burr, with whom I consider my partner in crime on many issues. We chair this hearing on an issue that is important to the both of us, the Child Care Development Block Grant.

“I would like to thank Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray for graciously allowing us to hold this hearing today.

“I hope that with today’s hearing, we will be able to hear from HHS and critical stakeholders about how states are reacting to the Child Care Development Block Grant Act of 2014, a bill Senator Burr and I worked hard on together. I also want to hear about the challenges that some states have had with the implementation of this important law.

“Every family deserves child care that is affordable, accessible and exceptional. Child care is one of the most important decisions a parent will make when it comes to raising their child, but we live in the age of scrimp and save where times are tough and budgets are tight.

“Day in and day out, parents across America struggle to put food on the table, pay their bills and provide care for their kids. Those worries weigh heavily on the shoulders of parents everywhere.

“Child care is something that all families worry about regardless of their income or zip code. People want care that is reliable, undeniable, safe, affordable and accessible. Every month CCDBG serves more than 1.4 million children and in Maryland alone, approximately 18,000 children are served monthly.

“Some of you may ask why this is important. It’s because child care is expensive. In Maryland alone, the average cost of child care is more than $20,000, equaling $393 per week and making us the fifth most expensive state. Child care is not a luxury. It’s a necessity and should not be beyond the bounds of a family’s budget.

“This program is pretty important. Unfortunately, it had not been reauthorized in nearly 20 years when Congress tackled welfare reform in 1996. At that time, CCDBG was considered to be solely a workforce aid program and something to help moms and dads get back to work. This was, and remains, an important goal but we have learned a lot since then.

“Today, we know that the most rapid period of development for the brain happens in the first five years. That’s why it was so imperative that we ensured that our young children were in high-quality child care programs by giving them the building blocks for a successful future.

“It is simply not enough to ensure that kids have some place to go. We must also ensure that they go someplace safe that nurtures their development, challenges their mind and prepares them for school.

“Simply put, the CCDBG program was outdated. It did not go far enough in promoting and supporting high-quality child care, safeguarding the health and safety of children, ensuring that children and families had continuity of care, and focusing on infant and toddler care.

“That’s why Senator Burr and I got together four years ago. We held three bipartisan hearings through the subcommittee on Children and Families. We worked with more than 50 stakeholder organizations like Child Care Aware, CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center. We worked with every member of this Committee, including Senators Alexander, Murray, Enzi, Casey, Murkowski and Franken and worked with the House Committee on Education and Workforce to put together a comprehensive reauthorization bill that we all felt good about and still do.

“It did not solve every problem. I wish it had. But the bill did do a lot of good for families who rely on CCDBG.

“The bill required states to prioritize quality. It required that states set-aside at least nine percent of their funding for quality improvements. States get to choose what works best for them, whether it’s better professional development of its workforce, supporting early learning guidelines, expanding quality rating systems, or improving quality and quantity of child care programs.

“The bill required child care providers to meet health and safety requirements so that parents knew providers were capable and competent when it came to handling CPR and First Aid, child abuse, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“The bill required mandatory background checks. The bill gave families in the CCDBG program more reliability and stability by ensuring that children who were in the program got care for at least one year even, if a parent saw a change in their paycheck.

“Because of the bipartisan efforts of this bill, we were able to present HHS with a pretty good bill. After all, it did pass the Senate 88 to 1. Based on what I have heard and seen, I think HSS has done a real superb job here. They really understood what we were trying to do and stuck with Congressional intent.

“They saw this law as an opportunity to protect the health and safety of children in child care, help parents make informed choices based on best information available, provide equal access to stable, high-quality care for low-income children and their families, and enhance the quality of child care and the early childhood workforce. I know that this was no easy task, but kudos for a job well done.

“But in order to ensure that we sustain all of the great work done here by Congress and by HHS, we must work together as authorizers and appropriators to ensure we continue strong investments in the CCDBG program.

“More kids and their families are in need of access to high-quality child care. We cannot let this become another Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) where the federal government promised to cover 40 percent of special education costs, when the reality is we’re covering only 16 percent today.

“We cannot let this become another unfunded mandate because these children and their families are counting on us.

“Every working parent with a child, no matter their income level, worries about child care. What is affordable? What is accessible? Will my child be safe? Where can I get the very best care for my child? The CCDBG program has given many families over many years peace of mind that their child is well taken care of.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today. I want to hear about what has been going well and what they liked about what we did in the reauthorization. I also want to hear about what challenges our states face and what we can do to help them be successful. 

“Again, I thank Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray for allowing us to convene today’s very important hearing and for Senator Burr for working with me one last time.”

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