BEYOND THE NUMBERS
For Mother’s Day, Give Mothers the Housing and Child Care They Need
Mother’s Day should remind policymakers to help more mothers afford high-quality child care and stable housing for their families. The President and Congress can do that by overriding the deep funding cuts scheduled for 2020 under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and making sizable new investments in child care and housing — such as by enacting the significant child care boosts in a bill that the House Appropriations Committee recently passed.
Stable, affordable housing and high-quality, affordable child care are essential to families’ economic stability, mothers’ ability to work, and children’s healthy development, as we and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) wrote recently. But due to inadequate funding, just 1 in 6 children eligible for child care assistance — and 1 in 5 families with children eligible for housing assistance — receives it. As a result, many low-income families struggle to pay for child care and housing, and many are forced into lower-quality or less stable child care arrangements and housing that’s overcrowded, substandard, or located in neighborhoods with fewer opportunities for parents and children.
Funding for federal housing and child care assistance is inadequate for two major reasons. First, unlike Medicaid or SNAP (food stamps), federal child care and rental assistance programs are not entitlements — that is, they don’t serve every eligible person who applies because their funding is capped at a certain level, so it doesn’t automatically expand to meet increased need.
Second, the President and Congress fund most federal child care assistance and all rental assistance through the annual appropriations process. And, while these programs enjoy bipartisan support, policymakers haven’t provided enough funding to serve all eligible families. That’s partly due to the overall appropriations funding limits of recent years under the BCA and its further “sequestration” cuts, which have made it hard for policymakers to provide enough funding to serve more eligible families.
The House Appropriations-passed bill, referenced above, to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would significantly raise funding for child care assistance. It would boost the Child Care and Development Block Grant by $2.4 billion, or 45 percent, over the 2019 level, without adjusting for inflation. Following a sizable child care increase in 2018 that policymakers maintained in 2019, that would bring total discretionary child care funding to $7.7 billion in 2020. And it would bring total overall child care funding — including mandatory funding (ongoing funding that’s set in law rather than appropriated each year) — to 74 percent above the 2010 level, after adjusting for inflation. The bill also includes a sizable increase in Head Start that would expand Early Head Start programs for infants and toddlers and improve the quality of Head Start (for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers) by investing in teachers, staff training, and equipment, and expanding the number of children who can attend the programs for a full school day and full school year.
In addition, the House Appropriations Committee will soon consider the 2020 appropriations bill to fund housing programs, including Housing Choice Vouchers and public housing. There, too, policymakers need to provide significant resources to help more mothers afford the stable housing that their children need to thrive.
But policymakers can only enact investments in child care and housing if the President and Congress again reach a budget deal that not only averts the BCA’s scheduled cuts but allows for investments, as they did for 2018 and 2019. Presuming they do so, they should make child care and rental assistance programs high priorities for any funding increases, and they should make those increases large enough to meaningfully expand access to these critical supports for families with children. Investing in these areas can help dramatically change the circumstances of mothers in low-income families, improving their economic stability and children’s well-being.