Child-Care Advocates, Policymakers Debate States' Use of Block Grants
Child-care advocates, researchers, and state policymakers came to Capitol Hill last week seeking to protect and expand block grants given under the 1996 welfare- reform law.
But members of the House Ways and Means Committee's human-resources subcommittee questioned whether states are using all the federal aid available to them to pay for child-care programs.
At the heart of the debate is federal money allocated to states under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. According to the welfare-reform legislation, states are allowed to transfer up to 30 percent of their TANF funds to subsidize child care. Most states are using only a small percentage of the available funds for child care, according to Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., the chairwoman of the subcommittee.
"Why aren't states using this money?" she asked at the hearing. "How can Congress justify cutting other programs and increasing taxes to give states yet more money, when so much is going unused?"
In fact, some states are using their TANF dollars to provide child care for low-income families, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., said in her testimony during the hearing. But "there is still a substantial need," she said. "Child care is a problem for everyone ... not just welfare recipients."
Helen Blank, the director of the Children's Defense Fund, presented data showing that the average cost of child care for a 4-year-old exceeds the average cost of public college tuition in almost every state.
"Many parents constantly must choose between paying the rent or mortgage, buying food, and being able to afford the quality care their children need," she contended. "Enormous gaps still remain in our efforts to help low-income parents work and take care of their children."
Other witnesses testified that the TANF money should continue to be used for welfare needs. In case the country experiences an economic downturn, that money needs to be available for future caseload increases, several witnesses argued. Several states have such money set aside in "rainy day" accounts.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tauscher introduced the Affordable Child Care, Education, Security and Safety Act at the hearing. The proposed measure, called the ACCESS Act, would increase tax credits for working families to help them pay for child care, expand the Dependent Care Tax Credit, double the number of children receiving child-care assistance, provide after-school care for up to half a million children annually, and seek to improve child-care safety and quality in early-childhood-development programs.
"Every family deserves access to quality child care," Ms. Tauscher said. "This bill ensures that no family needs to shortchange their children."
Vol. 18, Issue 28, Page 21