The U.S. Is in Urgent Need of Childcare Solutions. Build Back Better Would Be a Game-Changer

The Build Back Better Act would put an end to waiting lists, impossible commutes and childcare costs that rival college tuition.

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Even before the pandemic, more than half of all families lived in childcare deserts, and those who didn’t faced exorbitant prices. (Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle / Creative Commons)

This article originally appeared on The Century Foundation.

As we begin 2022, millions of parents and families are experiencing a new year that will be more difficult than ever. Rising COVID-19 cases, changes in school plans, shrinking child care options—it’s never been more difficult to be a parent, and especially a mom, in America. Instead of providing the solutions that families need, some lawmakers are focused on scare tactics invoking “toddler takeovers” and stalling any progress.

The United States has not prioritized childcare. Even before the pandemic, many families could not find childcare when and where they needed it. More than half of all families lived in childcare deserts, and those who didn’t faced exorbitant prices. That’s gotten even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who can afford childcare, extremely high prices take a toll—many families pay more than mortgage payments or rent for care. It’s unacceptable. That’s why the Build Back Better Act will be a game-changer for parents across the nation, lowering prices and increasing the supply of high-quality care at the same time.

The Build Back Better Act will be a game-changer for parents across the nation, lowering prices and increasing the supply of high-quality care at the same time.

Julie Groce, a teacher, and her family struggled to pay for full-time childcare for their 2-year-old. After COVID-19 shut down their childcare program, Julie moved from Arizona to Michigan to be closer to family, but soon realized she faced the same childcare crisis. After months of searching and working at home while caring for her toddler, Julie and her husband found a childcare program that costs $800 a month, which is now stretching their household budget to its limits. On top of the cost, temporary closures, caused by staffing shortages and outbreaks, often leave Julie’s family and others scrambling to find last-minute care.

Arielle Cantatore, a contract veterinarian, and her husband, a teacher, live in upstate New York with their two kids. When Arielle gave birth to their youngest in 2020, she took three months of unpaid parental leave, which caused her family major financial strain. Her return to work was delayed because she could not find affordable, high-quality childcare for her infant. Her three-year-old child attends a program that costs $700 a month, but it doesn’t provide infant care. She finally found a spot for her baby in a high-quality program, but it adds another forty-minute trip to her day, which limits the hours she can work and requires even more time away from her family.

Moms working in the low-paying field of early education also face significant challenges. When Jessica Flook from Portland, Oregon, became a mother three years ago, she began looking for employment outside of the childcare industry—where she’d worked for nearly a decade—because it did not pay well enough to afford childcare herself. Since leaving that job, she has not found affordable childcare that meets her family’s needs and has been home with her son. She plans to wait to get a job until her family qualifies for assistance or her son is in public education.

BriTanya Bays of Stamford, Texas, was working as a childcare and preschool director while she was pregnant with twins. When she realized she couldn’t afford to enroll her own children at the center where she worked, even part-time, she left and started her own in-home childcare program. BriTanya takes childcare subsidies under the current law, but despite her college degree and round-the-clock work, she is only reimbursed about $2–$3 an hour per child—far from the true cost of providing care.

For Julie, Arielle, Jessica and BriTanya, the Build Back Better Act would be life-changing.

  • Under the legislation’s provisions, Julie and her family would pay as little as $367 per month, resulting in over $5,000 in savings annually, and even more when her son is old enough for free preschool.
  • Arielle’s oldest would also benefit from free preschool, saving her over $8,000 a year on care for her oldest child alone. And with the increased investments for childcare supply in Build Back Better, Arielle could find more safe, quality childcare options in her neighborhood without adding to her commute.
  • For Jessica, childcare and pre-K would be free and she would be able to return to her work as an early educator—and this time she would be paid a living wage.
  • BriTanya would be reimbursed based on the actual cost of providing care and be able to better support her twins.

These women are just four of the millions of moms, parents, caregivers and families whose lives would be improved by the Build Back Better Act, and their children are six of the more than 13 million children around the nation who will have safe, nurturing care that supports their healthy development.

This is not theoretical for families—the Build Back Better Act would put an end to waiting lists, impossible commutes and childcare costs that rival college tuition. Those caring for our children would no longer struggle to provide for their own families on too low wages. Build Back Better would provide more than comprehensive childcare and free, high-quality preschool—it would give families financial security, more time with our kids, and the peace of mind we urgently need.

Families have had enough toddler takeovers, both at home and in Congress. The next step is clear. We must pass Build Back Better now.

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About and

Nina Perez is the early childhood national campaign director at MomsRising/MamásConPoder. Nina's career had focused on ending the oppression and exploitation of women and girls. She was previously a program manager at Community Family Life Services supporting direct services and leadership with low-income communities in Washington, D.C., and, before that, an educator at Miami Dade College and the University of Central Florida.
Julie Kashen is director of Women’s Economic Justice and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank. She is one of the nation’s leading experts on the issues affecting working families, having authored numerous studies on child care, paid leave, equal pay and other topics.