By James Harrison
This story first appeared in Carolina Public Press and is published by N.C. Health News through a content-sharing agreement.
With the passage of a bipartisan bill crafted in-part by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, relations in a frozen Senate could begin thawing out as early as this week.
The legislation, which has been waiting in the wings for months, would offer states $13.1 billion in block grants to update a decades-old child care subsidy program.
Along with Burr, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., was instrumental in drafting core components of the law.
In addition to the opportunity to provide a means for low-income parents to remain or return to the labor force, the bill has caught the eye of Senators eager to ease a slog which has dominated the polarized chamber since Democrats voted to change filibuster rules last year.
The measure has received national attention. Publications including the New York Times and National Journal have offered reporting on the proposal, with the National Journal describing it as “the only bright spot on an otherwise stalled agenda in the Senate.”
If approved, the bill could open the door for Senators to begin work on items addressing other arenas.
Describing the measure as a “welfare reform success story,” Burr said he hoped changes would encourage “personal responsibility” for both parents and providers.
“The transparency we incorporate in this law will go a long way toward making parents well-informed consumers of child care and improve the safety of the programs,” Burr said, in a statement emailed to Carolina Public Press. “It is of particular importance to me that federal dollars will no longer go to child care providers who have been convicted of violent crime.”
Along with requiring employees of participating child care providers to undergo background checks, the bill also calls for new health and safety benchmarks to be met.
States accepting funds would also agree to put portions of the money toward offering training and professional development for those in the child care workforce.
Families participating in the program would be given a voucher for child care, which could be used at the provider of their choice. Burr said he hoped allowing parents to have options for child care would help increase the quality of services offered by providers.
“[The bill] also places an emphasis on improving the quality of our child care facilities over the next several years,” he said. “This is not another Washington entitlement, but an investment in the self-sufficiency of some of our hardest working families.”
Despite the bill’s positive outlook in the Senate, its fate remains to be seen in the lower chamber of Congress.
According to a Politico report, the House has yet to produce a companion bill to the Senate version.