U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is pushing for two bills designed to provide parents with affordable child care, and heard from local mothers during a recent roundtable discussion at Head Start of Fayette County.
Casey’s stop was part of a statewide tour. He is co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would cap the cost of childcare for families earning 150% of their state’s median income at 7%, and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit Enhancement Act, which would make a tax credit available to most working families.
“This isn’t just a set of kids’ issues and family issues. These are American issues,” Casey said.
Early learning and child care enables children to earn more later in life, making the country more competitive, Casey said. All children are “born with a light inside them” and some need help so their “lights shine as brightly as possible,” he said.
The cost of child care has increased by about 25% over the last decade. On average, couples pay about 12% of their annual income for childcare, and single parents pay about 46%.
“That is unsustainable. That is unsustainable for someone that might be bordering on wealthy, and certainly it’s unsustainable for the middle class and those trying to get into the middle class,” he said.
Full-time daycare costs on average about $11,560 annually for an infant and $8,712 for a 4-year-old in Pennsylvania, according to data from Child Care Aware.
State Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Twp., said the General Assembly has been “overwhelmingly positive” so far during discussions of the Early Childhood Education Caucus in Harrisburg.
“This is a perfect example of long-term investments where we can see benefits not just today but in the future,” he said.
When his oldest child was younger, he said about 90% of his wife’s paycheck as a part-time teacher went to child care.
Deidre Powell-Wilson, a local mother of three children ages 7, 6 and 2, said about 14% of her income goes toward child care. She noted her youngest has learned more than her older children did as toddlers, when she could not afford full-time child care.
“For about five years, I was a stay-at-home mom because affording child care and working was just not going to happen,” she said during the roundtable discussion.
Amanda Tringes, a mother of an 11-year-old and a 2-year-old, said about $200 of her $600 paycheck goes toward child care. She said her child has more socialization opportunities and learning experiences in child care.
“It’s helpful, but it is expensive,” she said.
Both mothers said they receive the child care tax credit.
Advocates at the roundtable noted many parents also need child care outside of normal business hours, during evenings and weekends.
The bills are also designed to support universal access to high-quality preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, improve compensation for child care workers, improve care for children with disabilities, enable working families with income under $120,000 to receive a full child care tax credit and increase the maximum tax credit for child care from $1,050 to $3,000 per child to $6,000.
Casey said after the discussion that increasing the affordability of child care can reduce poverty by enabling more parents to work. He noted Fayette County has high rates of poverty, along with other communities along his tour.
“Child care is a major cost, and it’s crushing,” he said.