Insisting parents should not have to choose between their jobs and their children, President Clinton proposed Wednesday what he deemed a record investment in child care - $22 billion to make care more affordable, more accessible and safer.
“There is no more important job than raising a child,” Clinton said. But as more and more parents work out of choice or necessity, he lamented that the nation has failed to help them.
“We know the government cannot raise or love a child, but that is not what we’re supposed to do,” Clinton said after entering the White House East Room with a group of young children. “What the government is supposed to do is help create the conditions and give people the tools that will enable them to raise and love their children while successfully participating in the American workplace.”
Clinton is asking Congress for $21.7 billion over five years - “the single largest national commitment to child care in the history of the United States” - to help parents and businesses pay for care, to improve the quality of care, to expand Head Start and to increase after-school care.
Child-care advocates said the proposal, if enacted, would be a breakthrough in how the nation treats working parents and their children.
“It is an amazing stride forward,” said Matthew Melmed, of Zero to Three, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that works on behalf of infants and toddlers. “It squarely puts the federal government in the role of helping parents.”
Under the proposal, Clinton would spend $7.5 billion to double to 2 million the number of children whose low-income parents receive child-care subsidies under a block grant to the states.
Another $5.2 billion would go to increase tax credits to 3 million working families who earn less than $60,000 a year. They would receive an average of $358 more for child care than they do under existing tax credits, according to White House officials.
Families earning $50,000 or less could claim half their child-care costs, up to $2,400 for one child and $4,800 for two or more children. Families earning up to $60,000 could claim varying percentages of the cost, depending on their income. And those earning more, including the nation’s wealthiest families, could claim 20 percent of their costs, as they do now.
The proposal would eliminate federal taxes for most families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level - $35,000 for a family of four - that claim the maximum child-care expenses.
In addition, Clinton would provide an incentive for businesses to provide child-care services, with a tax credit for 25 percent of their costs, up to $150,000 a year.
That new tax credit would cost $500 million over five years, according to White House figures.
The proposal also follows through on the president’s earlier promise to get 1 million children into Head Start, the government’s pre-school program, by 2002. And it would double to 80,000 the number of infants and toddlers in a new program called Early Head Start. The plan would add $3.8 billion over five years to Head Start’s current budget of $4.4 billion a year.
Other proposals would provide grants to communities for early learning programs, give states money to improve safety inspections, provide scholarships to students training to be child-care workers and increase money for child-care research.
Clinton said the welfare-reform plan he signed in 1996 provided child-care money for recipients leaving the dole. This proposal, he said, would offer similar benefits to working families.
“Many children throughout the country are in makeshift operations because their parents have few choices,” said Susan Clampitt, associate administrator of the General Services Administration’s workplace programs. “This will provide a tremendous amount of relief and open a range of options for many, many parents.”
It remains to be seen how Congress will receive the proposal. But with every member of the House and onethird of the Senate facing re-election this year, it is sure to present a tough choice to those torn between increasingly powerful women voters who want help with children and more business-oriented constituents who want other tax cuts.
“It’s a major, major proposal. With so many people working out of economic necessity, we can’t let the children down,” said New Jersey Rep. Marge Roukema, one of the few Republicans present at Clinton’s announcement. But, she added, “We’ll have to see how we’re going to pay for it within the balanced budget.”
xxxx FOR THE CHILDREN The child-care initiative, which covers spending over five years, includes: $7.5 billion for child-care subsidies to low-income families, which the Clinton administration says will double the number of children who receive such subsidies to more than 2 million. $5.2 billion to increase tax credits to help 3 million working families pay for child care. $3.8 billion in new spending for the Head Start child nutrition and academic preparation program for preschoolers. $3 billion to support early learning programs for children up to 5 years old. $800 million to expand after-school and other school-community partnerships for children, plus $500 million in tax credits for businesses that build, expand and run existing child-care facilities or assist their employees in finding day care.
Other expenses $500 million to help states step up enforcement of health and safety standards governing child care, $250 million for 50,000 annual scholarships to develop a pool of eligible child-care workers and $150 million for research into early child care.