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$2.5-Billion Child-Care Proposal Unveiled

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Washington--Citing an urgent need to provide high-quality care for the growing number of children of working mothers, House and Senate sponsors last week introduced a $2.5-billion proposal to expand and improve day care for low- and moderate-income families.

Legislators who unveiled "the act for better child care" at a news conference here Thursday said the measure is the most comprehensive of its kind and has strong bipartisan support.

Noting that the demand for child-care has far outpaced the supply, Representative Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, called the bill a "first step toward a national solution to a national problem."

Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and the act's chief sponsor in the Senate, said it would strengthen "the three legs on which an effective child-care program must stand"--availability, affordability, and quality.

The so-called a.b.c. program, which would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, would provide states with funds for child-care assistance for working families earning less than 115 percent of a state's median income.

The level of assistance a family would receive would be based on an income-graded scale designed by the state, which could distribute the aid through contracts with child-care providers or certificates to parents.

The act also would provide states with funds to establish grant and low-interest loan programs to start or expand child-care programs and to recruit and train new family-day-care providers.

To improve day-care quality, the bill would require states to review and strengthen licensing laws and set minimum federal standards for staff-child ratios, staff qualifications, and health and safety protections.

Representative Dale Kildee of Michigan, a Democratic member of the House Education and Labor Committee and the bill's chief House sponsor, said the a.b.c. would ease the child-care burden for working mothers who have been forced to "put their children in jeopardy in the present in order to build a better future for them."

More than 125 representatives and 19 senators co-sponsored the legislation, which has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses.

The bill also has the endorsement of more than 90 national organizations that make up the Alliance for Better Child Care, which campaigned for the measure for more than a year and worked closely with legislators in drafting it.

In addition to child-welfare and education associations, the alliance includes women's groups, labor unions, religious organizations, public-advocacy groups, and medical professionals.

Other Provisions of Bill

"Support for the bill has been phenomenal," said Amy Tyler-Wilkins, a program associate with the Children's Defense Fund.

The bill also would:

Require states to form committees to coordinate state and local child-care services;

Require states to reserve at least 10 percent of their child-care funds to extend the hours of existing child-care and preschool programs, including those funded by Chapter 1, special-education laws, and Project Head Start;

Encourage states to favor programs that offer "meaningful" parental involvement and to establish child-care resource and referral services, consumer-education programs, and telephone hotlines for parents;

Establish an inservice-training requirement for child-care personnel; and

Make training scholarships and stipends available to providers.

House and Senate sponsors acknowledged that deficit-reduction efforts could hamper the abc's passage, but they argued that its cost could be justified and that it would weather Congressional scrutiny.

Many legislators recognize that "the lack of child care would be more costly in social and economic terms," said Representative Augustus Hawkins, the California Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee.

With political support for children's issues growing and public attention now focused on the need for child care, "I am confident that we can compete in the budget process," Representative Kildee said. He also noted that the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Jamie Whitten, Democrat of Mississippi, was a co-sponsor of the bill.

The drive for welfare reform also makes the bill's timing opportune, according to Senator Dodd. "If we are going to take mothers off welfare and put them into the workplace, we're going to have to do something about child care," he said.

To illustrate conservative support for the bill, Senator Dodd noted that Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, proposed an $875-million child-care bill earlier this year and has voiced interest in working with the a.b.c.'s sponsors.

No action is expected on the abc before the Congress adjourns next month, but aides said legislators hope to hold hearings in both houses early next year and to move the bill to the floor by spring.

Representative Kildee noted that lawmakers in 1971 had passed a $2-billion child-care bill, but that President Richard Nixon had vetoed it on the grounds that it was too costly and too "anti-family." Mr. Nixon "was wrong on both counts," he said.

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