Last week, in his final State of the Union address, the President called for a "21st-century revolution to reward work and strengthen families, by giving every parent the tools to succeed at work and at the most important work of all -- raising children."
One of the tools families need is trustworthy, reliable and affordable child care that offers working parents peace of mind and gives their children quality opportunities to learn and grow in the crucial early years of their lives.
When I first began to study child development nearly three decades ago, one in four children had mothers who worked outside their home. Today, that number has tripled. Many families spend as much as a quarter of their income on child care -- the second or third largest item in a low-income family's household budget.
Ever since my husband took office, I have worked with him to expand support for child care -- by offering more help for both working and stay-at-home parents. We held White House conferences on children's developmental needs, and used the best research available for our child care recommendations. We have made progress, working with Congress to more than double funding for child care. But there are many eligible families who still do not receive the assistance they need.
Last year, states provided child care assistance to just 12 percent of the roughly 15 million who qualified for help, leaving the vast majority to fend for themselves. Too many of these families find themselves caught in the middle between work and home -- forced to cobble together child care arrangements that, far from being stimulating and nurturing for their children, are barely satisfactory, and may even be unsafe.
I know that a country as great as ours, in the midst of the longest economic expansion in history, does not need to settle for unsatisfactory or unsafe care for its children. We can do better, and the proposals the President made would -- without undermining our commitment to a balanced budget -- move us closer to the day when working parents can feel confident and secure that their children are receiving the best care possible.
In last week's speech, the President called on Congress to pass a comprehensive child care initiative, extending the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and helping over 8 million families cover their child care expenses.
A typical family of four with an income under $25,000 has no tax liability, and therefore, under current law, is not eligible for child care credits. In order to help low-income families, the proposal would make the child care tax credit refundable, allowing nearly 2 million families to receive up to $2,400 a year to help offset their child care costs. Under this plan, a single mother with one child, earning an annual salary of $15,000, and spending about $2,400 on child care, would receive a refund of $1,200.
For middle- and low-income families -- those who earn up to $60,000 a year -- our proposal would increase the maximum credit to 50 percent of child care expenses. Under this proposal, a family of four with an annual salary of $35,000 and child care expenses of $3,100 would qualify for a tax credit of $1,395 -- nearly $800 more than they would receive under current law.
Additionally, if our plan is enacted, nearly 2 million parents who choose to stay at home to care for their children will be entitled to a tax credit.
The President also proposed a new tax credit for businesses that provide child care services for their employees. Companies that build or expand child care facilities, operate existing centers, train child care workers, or provide child care resource and referral services would qualify.
Tax credits are not the only tool we have to improve the quality and availability of child care for America's working families. The proposed budget includes a $1 billion increase in funding for Head Start -- the largest expansion ever of this successful early childhood program -- offering nearly 1 million low-income, preschool children the preparation they need to be ready for a lifetime of learning when they start school.
Our plan would also establish an Early Learning Trust Fund, specifically targeted to improving the quality of our nation's child care and early childhood education. If approved by Congress, this fund would help child care providers get training or certification, facilitate licensing or accreditation of child care centers, reduce child-to-staff ratios, and boost efforts to improve every child's literacy and language skills. In addition, the budget includes a new program to help early childhood educators acquire the education and skills they need to do their jobs better.
Finally, the proposed budget would help to cover the costs of child care for nearly 2.2 million low-income children, more than double funding for after-school and summer school programs, and support the establishment or expansion of child care centers on college campuses.
If we truly value family and work, the time is right for Congress to pass this plan. Helping parents find quality, affordable child care that will help prepare their children for success in school is not a partisan issue. America's families -- rich or poor, Democrat or Republican -- want and deserve nothing less.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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