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Hannah Matthews's picture

This morning, like millions of other parents across the country, I dropped my daughter off at child care on my way to work. In choosing a licensed child care provider to care for her, I made certain assumptions about the standards that provider would be required to meet. And, probably like many other parents, I take for granted that the government plays a role in helping to ensure my daughter’s health and safety.

In the policy arena, we often refer to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) as the program that funds state child care assistance programs that help low-income families afford child care while they are working, looking for work, or in training or education programs. However, CCDBG plays a role in the lives of all families using child care, not just those who are low-income. CCDBG includes a requirement that states spend up to 4 percent of funds on initiatives to improve the quality of care. In 2009, the latest year data are available, states set aside more than $661 million for this purpose.

These quality funds reach child care settings that serve children across income levels and are the sole source of federal funding dedicated to improving the quality of child care in this country. States spend at least half of these funds on basic health and safety for child care. Most states use CCDBG to fund at least a portion of their regulatory systems, including child care licensing and monitoring. CCDBG also provides funding for inspectors to visit child care programs to ensure that providers are following established health and safety standards. It provides funds for training for child care providers on child development. And it funds consumer education initiatives to relay information about quality child care to parents so they can make informed choices when choosing care.

Currently, the talk in Washington is about deficit reduction, balanced budgets, and spending cuts. Many of the proposed solutions for dealing with the large deficit include stripping funding for poor and low-income families. Programs for the poor are targeted for cuts because their beneficiaries lack political clout. But the level of cuts that have been proposed—cuts in the trillions—cannot be achieved without cutting programs that affect all Americans—not just the poor, not just the marginalized, and not just the most vulnerable.

The House Appropriations Committee, for example, has proposed rolling back funding for labor, health and education programs by $18 billion. At this time it’s unknown how those cuts would be distributed, but CCDBG would likely be impacted. Potential cuts to funding for CCDBG will naturally shrink the size of the quality set aside. Fewer dollars will mean fewer child care programs that will be inspected, even though child care monitoring systems are already so devoid of funding that only 14 states currently conduct inspections at least twice a year for child care centers, the frequency recommended by experts. In the worst state, an infant can attend a child care center every day for five years and leave for kindergarten without ever having been overseen by a state monitor.

Earlier this week, I was listening to this story about the impact of preschool investments on outcomes for children. Everyone from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman to President Obama are talking about the importance of quality early childhood education for our country’s future. Yet, fewer dollars will mean fewer child care providers with access to training and professional development opportunities to learn how to work with children in a way that yields positive outcomes.

Across the country, in town halls and other venues, Americans are realizing that budget cuts will have a real impact on their everyday lives. I, for one, expect the government to be there for my family in many ways, including by establishing and enforcing basic child care standards. Scrutinizing federal spending is important at this time of record deficits; however, harmful measures that will slash supports and protections for over 12 million children in child care in this country are not in the best interest of the country or any of our children. When I pick my daughter up this evening, and look around the place where she goes to child care, I’ll know that she is getting the kind of care James Heckman, Ben Bernanke and the President are talking about—yet I’ll also know that the cuts being proposed by Congress will mean that even fewer poor children will have access to what she has.

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