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House Accord on Child-Care Bill Seen Imminent

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Washington--House Democrats last week were working out the details of a compromise that could break the impasse on child-care legislation reached last year following a dispute over funding approaches.

Congressional sources said the compromise plan, which would still have to be reconciled with a Senate bill passed last year, is expected to reach the floor in the next two weeks.

The plan House leaders are considering, Congressional aides said, would replace a proposed new grant program backed by the Education and Labor Committee with an increase in Social Services Block Grant funding to states, earmarked for child-care spending, that the Ways and Means Committee supports.

A broader child-care package con4taining both provisions passed the House as part of a budget-reconciliation measure last year, but was dropped when the two panels failed to strike a compromise merging their proposals. (See Education Week, Nov. 22, 1989.)

The approach backed by the education panel, known as "the act for better child-care services," or abc, would help subsidize child care for low- and moderate-income families by providing direct grants to child-care providers. It also would support improvements in child-care standards, training, resource and referral services, and other support services.

While child-care advocacy groups generally favor that approach, the Democratic authors of the Ways and Means bill, Representatives Thomas J. Downey of New York and George Miller of California, have argued that funds should be channeled through an existing social-services program, not a new bureaucracy.

The impasse prompted House leaders to delay action on child care last year, and provoked an unusually caustic attack on Mr. Downey and Mr. Miller by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. She charged the two with trying to "sabotage" child-care legislation over jurisdictional issues.

Hope for A.B.C. Approach

Although the compromise being worked out favors the Ways and Means Committee's approach, the chairman of the Education and Labor panel, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California, will "make our pitch" for the a.b.c. component in a House-Senate conference committee, an aide said.

"As part of a concerted effort along with the leadership," the aide said, "we are willing to move the bill along as long as we can continue to fight for what we want further down the road."

Because the Senate-passed version still contains the a.b.c. component, backers say they are hopeful the final version will contain elements of both funding mechanisms.

The compromise plan under review would retain Education and Labor-backed provisions to increase funding for Head Start and establish a school-based program for before- and after-school care. It would also include Ways and Means' proposal to increase the earned-income tax credit for working families with children.

But Congressional aides said last week that several "loose ends" must be tied before House leaders announce an agreement.

Observers also noted that lingering disputes over the use of federal aid to fund religious child care remain unresolved and may have to be decided by the courts.

In the meantime, Representatives Charles W. Stenholm, Democrat of Texas, and Clay Shaw, Republican of Florida, unveiled a substitute child-care bill they plan to offer on the House floor.

The measure would increase Head Start and Social Services Block Grant funding and expand the earned-income tax credit. It would not fund school-based care or offer grants to help states meet model child-care standards.

The Stenholm-Shaw proposal, which is similar to a bill they unsuccessfully offered last year, would allow religious child-care providers to "require employees to adhere to their teachings and tenets." It also would "permit states adequate time and use of funds" to establish child-care voucher programs for parents.

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