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White House Pitches Competitive Grant Program Aimed at Improving Child Care

President Barack Obama made a big pitch for expanding federal child-care help in this State of the Union address—and then again in a speech at the University of Kansas Thursday.

Now the White House has released some more details of its plan to expand access to child-care programs—including a proposal for a $100 million new, competitive grant program to help states create, put in place, and evaluate new ways of delivering child care.

The program would fund pilot projects to test out promising ideas for helping rural families, parents who work outside the typical 9 to 5 schedule, and families of children with disabilities find good child care.

The plan also calls for increased resources for the Child Care and Development Fund, a roughly $5 billion program that provides subsidies to low- and moderate-income families to help cover the cost of child care, so that parents can go to work or train for a new job.

The CCDF program, which is financed by both the feds and states, got a bipartisan congressional makeover just a few months ago, through a reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant bill. Under that legislation, child-care programs that are subsidized through the program would have to meet new safety and quality standards, such as requiring employees to undergo criminal background checks, and learn first aid.

But the bill didn't provide a windfall of new resources to help, to the chagrin of some early-childhood advocates.

The administration's plan —which would cost about $80 billion over 10 years, paid for through tax changes—seeks to ramp up eligibility for the subsidies to more low-income families.  Under the plan, all families whose incomes fall below the 200 percent of the poverty line (about $40,000 for a family of three) with children who are age 3 would get the help.

The White House also hit on two proposals that were announced in advance of the State of the Union: a) tripling the maximum child-care tax credits for families with children under 5, to $3,000 per child, and b) making the full credit available to more middle income families (folks who make less than $120,000 a year).

Notice a pivot here? For the last couple of years, the administration has been all about early-child education, pushing a $75 billion proposal for near-universal prekindergarten that seems totally dead in Congress. This year, when the administration is focused on the littlest learners, they're all about child care, as opposed to early-childhood education (similar, but not exactly the same thing).

Does that help the administration get around the question of whether the feds should be involved in early education? Or is the White House pushing this because Congress already gave child care a big, bipartisan hug in passing the CCDBG reauthorization?

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