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Congress Strikes Deal on Child Care and Development Block Grant Overhaul

Federal lawmakers struck a bipartisan, bicameral deal Friday afternoon that would overhaul the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which hasn't been updated since 1996.

The law provides funding for states to help low-income families pay for child care while a parent works or is in an educational or job-training program. A deal between the two chambers of Congress, which are more accustomed to opposing one another, ensures the proposal will get to the president's desk.

"This bipartisan bill will help to ensure working parents have access to quality, affordable child care and provide rich early-learning opportunities for children, including infants and toddlers and children with disabilities," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "This bill is a strong example of what Congress can achieve by working together."

Harkin and Rep. John Kline, R-Min., chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, led the negotiations.  

"Working moms and dads have pursued a career, earned a degree, or acquired new skills and training because of the support available through this program," Kline said. "The common-sense ideas included in this bipartisan, bicameral agreement will only strengthen our support of these working families."

Specifically, the measure would give parents more information about available child-care options, including faith-based and community-based providers, and allow parents to choose a program that best suits their family's needs.

The bill would strengthen safety in child-care programs by requiring all providers to comply with state health, safety, and fire standards and undergo annual inspections. For instance, under the bill, states would be required to conduct comprehensive background checks on child-care providers, something only about a dozen states call for now.

The proposal would also require states to set aside a greater portion of their own funds for program improvement, 10 percent, up from the current 4 percent. The additional funds could be used for a range of activities, such as beefing up training for providers, and making available "consumer information" to parents so that they can compare different providers.

Along with Harkin and Kline, the gang of eight negotiators included: Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Todd Rokita, R-Ind., and David Loebsack, D-Iowa.

The proposal is based on a bill brokered between Mikulski and Burr, which the Senate passed earlier this year.

The bill is largely noncontroversial and is backed by nearly every child-care stakeholder out there, but several of them signed onto a letter in March demanding that lawmakers also funnel more money for the law to help programs and states cover the costs of the new quality improvements.

The program currently gets about $5.2 billion a year in federal funding, and the negotiated bill would increase that number slightly, but not likely not enough to appease advocates.

You can read the text of the legislation here.

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