Women and Caregivers Face Too Many Barriers Running for Office—Here’s How the ‘Help America Run’ Act Can Help

The Help America Run Act would make the use of campaign funds for childcare an “authorized expenditure”—clearing a significant pathway for working parents and caregivers like me.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) at the 2022 Martin Luther King, Jr., parade and rally on Jan. 17, 2022 in Atlanta. (Paras Griffin / Getty Images)

Congressional campaigns are often planned years in advance; but in July 2020, I plunged right into the deep end when my friend, mentor and predecessor U.S. Rep. John Lewis, tragically died, and before we could grieve. The Republican governor forced Georgia Democrats to replace Lewis on the November ballot. In less than 72 hours, I became a candidate for Congress. 

While campaigning virtually during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with back-to-back (to-back) events and squeezing in interviews, getting a lunch break was a luxury because I needed to spend every second connecting with voters. And y’all—l still had a full-time job with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. 

To put my son Carter first as I always do, I couldn’t be a full-time working mom, candidate and Carter’s teacher. (If you thought your job was hard virtually, try virtual kindergarten.) I needed help on top of the excellent care provided by my husband Leslie, and our family village of support. 

Thankfully, Ms. Betty came to the rescue for Carter, our family and the campaign. Ms. Betty cared for my Carter-cakes while mommy went to work. 

For Congress to be truly representative, 58 more moms with children under 18 would have to be elected to either the House of Representatives or Senate. 

Because Ms. Betty was essential to the campaign, her work was a campaign budget line item. Straightforward enough, right? However, my staff was worried whether this would be a political hit. But I have nothing to hide, and I said I would explain this to anyone who asked. Using campaign funds for Ms. Betty was practical, too. Childcare is something I can’t afford on my own. 

While I am incredibly lucky, not every candidate has the same resources. 

Parents, especially parents of young children, must bring children on the campaign trail—with all the difficulties that entails—or rely on vanishing childcare slots. With the end of pandemic-era federal childcare investments, 3.2 million childcare seats nationwide were eliminated, a Century Foundation report found.

Now that I’m in Congress, I have an obligation to dismantle barriers working parents and caregivers face when seeking public office. 

The Help America Run Act and Improving Representation

That’s why I introduced The Help America Run Act, legislation that allows for using federal campaign funds for childcare to be an “authorized expenditure.”

Currently, federal law permits candidates to use campaign funds for a limited number of personal expenses—such as childcare—incurred only because they are campaigning with each state having their own restrictions, too. The Help America Run Act formalizes and guarantees to help level the playing field for federal candidates. 

Without this standard, working parents, caregivers and the candidates from marginalized communities face barriers to campaigning, resulting in a Congress that does not look like the United States. 

Working parents and caregivers should have the freedom to run to serve the people of the United States.

While the 118th Congress is the most diverse Congress that has ever been elected, it still is not representative of the general population.

  • Just over 17 percent of the U.S. population is a mom of child under 18, according to a Vote Mama Foundation report.
  • Moms of a minor child comprise 6.8 percent of Congress, with just 1.1 percent of Congress being moms of children under 6.

That means for Congress to be truly representative, 58 more moms with children under 18 would have to be elected to either the House of Representatives or Senate. 

Less than 5 percent of members of Congress said in their biographies that they work in blue-collar or service jobs, The New York Times reported in 2019. The median net worth of lawmakers was just over $1 million in 2015—an astonishing 18 times the wealth of the typical American household, according to a survey by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Working parents and caregivers should have the freedom to run to serve the people of the United States. And by ensuring everyone can have a seat at the table, we can achieve policies that reflect the needs of the United States as a whole because we all take our lived experiences with us wherever we go. 

The Help America Run Act clears a significant pathway for millions of working parents like me and caregivers across the country. Their voices are essential to solving the important issues people care about. If we had more working parents and caregivers in Congress, perhaps we could end the childcare crisis in the country. (I’m working on that.)

Congress must pass The Help America Run Act so we can take a major step forward to creating a more equitable country for everyone—no matter your networks, no matter the size of your bank account.

Up next:

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U.S. Rep Nikema Williams proudly serves the people of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District. She is on the frontlines fighting for women and U.S. democracy as vice chair of the Democratic Women's Caucus and co-chair of the Task Force for Strengthening Our Democracy.