Child Care

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Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the committee,colleagues:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee toaddress one of the most important questions facing parents today:child care.

I am, or was, in a certain sense, the child that we arediscussing today. I was raised by a young, single mother, whoworked as a waitress, from the time I was 3-years-old. I was placedin many types of child care settings: institutional day care,family day care, babysitters, and even sibling care with my brotherwho was but a year older than I. My worst memory is not, perhaps,what one might expect: it was not a feeling of abandonment, as Iunderstood my mother's need to work; it was not an inattentiveprovider, as my brother was good company; it was the family daycare setting in which I was given powdered milk to drink, which wasthe worst imaginable suffering for me because I just hated powderedmilk. All that may be of interest to you, but like the dozens ofanecdotes put forward by many in the White House and in the media,my story has very little real significance. What matters today arenot 1, 2, or 10 anecdotes, but the hard facts that speak for themillions of children in this country.

Those who study the child care market generally assess it inthree ways: We look at availability, affordability, and quality.And what the facts show is that child care in America is available,affordable, and the high quality that parents seek. According tothe most comprehensive nationwide survey done on the state of childcare, which was co-sponsored by the department of Health and HumanServices (National Child Care Survey), 96 percent of all parentssaid they are satisfied or very satisfied with their current childcare arrangements. That satisfaction rate did not vary with theemployment status of the mother, the type of care used, familyincome, the child's age, or race. Let us examine possible reasonsfor that satisfaction.

In terms of availability, the White House has suggested there isa serious problem. But their stories do not paint the true picture.According to the most comprehensive study done on child careproviders in the United States, which was prepared under contractfor the U.S. Department of Education (Profile of Child CareSettings), there is roughly a 12 percent vacancy rate in child carecenters, a figure that is remarkably similar across regions andurban, suburban, and rural areas. In addition, there are anestimated 1.1 million nonregulated family day care providers, 40percent of whom say they have room for more children. According tothe Profile of Child Care Settings, "The market seems to be workingto increase supply as demand expands." That study confirmed thefindings an earlier study by the Labor Department and the NationalChild Care Survey.

It is also important to note that the studies have also shownthat any pockets of shortages are a result of regulatoryrequirements. Let me give you a local example. In the District ofColumbia, it is illegal for two families to share a nanny (or ababysitter). Any babysitter or nanny who wishes to care forchildren from two different families must be regulated as a childdevelopment facility, where she would need to meet the samerequirements for space, toys, and food preparation as a child carecenter. We can only guess at this point how much this ridiculousregulation costs families who might benefit from sharing ababysitter. Moreover, most city zoning commissions consider daycare a small business and prohibit programs from opening inresidential areas. Those prohibitions can extend even toindividuals who wish to use their own homes to care forneighborhood children. Those who seek to increase the availabilityof child care should examine local zoning ordinances to see if theypose a significant barrier to expanding the supply of child care.If so, waivers can be sought to exempt day care facilities from theordinances.

In terms of affordability, the White House'sanalysis-by-anecdote would have us believe that good quality childcare is available only for the wealthy. Again, the facts tell adifferent story. Child care fees have not risen more than 5 percent(in real terms) since the late 1970s. More than sixty percent ofpre-school-aged children are still cared for primarily by theirmom, dad, or a relative. Among families who use non-family childcare, half pay nothing: only half of all arrangements used forpreschoolers while their mothers are working require a cashpayment. That is because parents frequently trade services withother parents in the neighborhood. For those who do pay for childcare, the average weekly expenditure for families below the povertylevel is $50. Families above poverty pay $76. Is that too much ortoo little? Nine out of ten parents say they would be willing topay more for their current child care arrangements.

While problems affording child care are not widespread, there isno doubt that some young families struggle to afford child care.There are roughly 1 million children [1,068,00] whose parents aremembers of the "working poor." Yet, their situation is far fromdestitute. More than 6 out of 10 of arrangements chosen by workingpoor families do not require a cash payment. Thus, roughly500,000 families are among the "working poor" who pay for childcare. Surely it is difficult for those families to pay forchild care. However, their needs should be addressed, to the extentpossible, as should the needs of all families: throughrelieving the tax burden. When that fails, those families shouldnot be dismissed, but their needs can be, and would be, betteraddressed at the local or state level. Employers, unions, andcommunities have responded to working parents' demands foraffordable child care. For example, more than half of all familiesreport having an employer benefit that helps them manage childcare. Those policies have come about without pressure or "taxincentives" from the federal government. Dozens of unions have alsoestablished child care programs for their workers, including theUnited Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, Amalgamated Clothing andTextile Workers Union, and the International Ladies Garment WorkersUnion.

For families entering the workforce, the 1996 welfare reformbill increased the amount of funds in the block grant by 70percent. Many governors have already reported having a surplus offunds. At least 27 states already provide transitional child carebased on a sliding scale for between 12 and 24 months forindividuals entering the workforce. And at least 20 states plan toappropriate state dollars beyond the amount that they are requiredto spend to draw on federal funds. Most important, the welfarereform bill stipulates that a state may not reduce or terminateassistance on the basis of a refusal to work if the householdincludes a single parent and a child under six and child care isunavailable for nearly any reason. That means that there is nodanger of parents' being forced to leave their children ininadequate or dangerous settings while they work.

The American Public Welfare Association has concluded that"there is an across-the-board effort to ensure the availability ofquality child care for all low-income residents, not just thosethat are transitioning off welfare." There is every reason tobelieve that the needs of the poor can be met with assistance fromthe state and private sectors.

The third criterion is quality. Again, the White House paints apicture of parents incapable of judging the quality of child caresettings, but the facts tell a different story. Because people aredifferent, parents have more than one way of defining quality. Thismedley of parental demands manifests itself in a market with achoice of products - parental care, relative care, family day care,church-based care, commercial child care, and educationalpreschools. Some parents see quality as a feature of providers -whether a provider is warm and loving, reliable and experienced.Those parents often choose relative or family-day care. Otherparents see quality as linked to educational opportunities, andthey are more likely to choose center-based care. However parentsdefine quality, most say it is more important than cost orconvenience when selecting child care providers. Parents' highsatisfaction rates with their child care arrangements suggests theyare finding and using the quality care they seek.

In the end, the whole child care debate may be irrelevant to howchildren turn out. "Virtually no research has examined thecumulative, long-term effects on children of attending child carearrangements of varying quality as preschoolers," according to theNational Research Council. Even in the short term, the NationalInstitutes of Health has found that regardless of how much childcare a child receives, its effects are dwarfed by the influence offamily. Even if it could be proven that child care is good for mostchildren, every child has unique needs. The best solution to theday care debate is to allow parents to make the decisions thatrequire keeping the unique needs of each child in mind.

The facts show that the child care market per se ishealthy. Child care is available, affordable, and of good quality.There is no public demand for a federal child care plan, so why isthere so much talk about child care? According to Rep. GeorgeMiller (D-Calif.), who worked to pass a similar child care proposalten years ago, the child care movement is pure politics. "The factis that I spent eight years in getting the child-care bill passedin Congress, and at its zenith, there was never a child-caremovement in the country. There was a coalition of child-advocacygroups, and a few large international unions that put up hundredsof thousands of dollars, and we created in the mind of theleadership of Congress that there was a child-care movement - butthere was nobody riding me. And not one of my colleagues believedthat their election turned on it for a moment. There wasn't aparents' movement."

What appears to be driving this movement is an assumption thatparents can't be trusted to protect their children. In fact, FirstLady Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests that parents don't know whatconstitutes quality child care. As she puts it, parents often"don't know what is quality. If somebody's nice to them, it doesn'tmatter that they don't know the difference between caring for a1-year-old or a 4-year-old." I think any parent has the perfectright to be insulted by that attitude. It didn't take a village ofpoliticians to raise Chelsea, why should it take one to raise yourchild?

Already state, local, and federal tax dollars pay 40 percent ofall child care expenditures in the country. Of course a seriousreading of the Constitution would never have allowed that level ofintervention in the first place, but that is a lengthy discussionfor another day. Certainly though, President Clinton's prescriptionfor a dramatic increase in federal involvement in child care cannotbe squared with the notion of a national government whose powersare limited and enumerated by the Constitution.

Parents are not calling for federal day care programs; they arecalling for choice. Moms and dads want choice: they want to selectthe best provider for their children, whether themselves, theirfamily members, or educational learning centers. The best way torestore choice is with a direct tax cut.

Let me give you an example. A poll conducted for Glamourmagazine found that 84 percent of women who were employed full orpart time agreed with the statement, "If I could afford it, I wouldrather be at home with my children." That poll result is consistentwith several other polls. Polls conducted by the Families and WorkInstitute show that nearly 7 out of 10 parents report wanting tospend more time with their children. The overwhelming majority ofparents, moms and dads alike, say they want to spend more time withtheir children - they simply can't afford it. In the modern age, inthis era when taxes are so high that it often takes two full-timebreadwinners to raise a family, those choices have becomeenormously expensive.

An across-the-board tax rate cut would help all parents, thoseusing parental care and those using day care. For some parents,that would mean more money for a different day care provider, forother parents, probably the majority of parents, that would meanworking less and spending more time with their children. We mustremember that parents, not politicians, are best equipped to makedecisions about child care arrangements - decisions that requirekeeping the unique needs of each child in mind. If the federalgovernment could do one thing to help all children have the bestpossible child care, it would be to restore that parental choice bycutting taxes.