Progressive members of Congress are locked in tense negotiations with members of their own party over President Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan, a package that would fund a host of Democratic priorities including one that’s been particularly costly for Massachusetts families: child care.
The situation faced by local families helps explain increasingly urgent arguments from progressives, who are threatening to vote against a bipartisan infrastructure bill if Biden’s plan is not brought up for a vote first. According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, Massachusetts has the highest cost of child care in the country, topped only by Washington, D.C.
The alarming figures put Massachusetts, with an average annual cost of infant child care at $20,913, far ahead of California, the state with the second highest such costs at $16,945. California is followed closely by Minnesota at $16,087. Comparatively, Mississippi is the state with the lowest annual cost of infant care at $5,436.
The exorbitant cost of infant care in Massachusetts is easily more expensive than in-state tuition at UMass Amherst and infant care costs about 30 percent more than average rent in Massachusetts, according to the EPI. Since those data were last updated in October 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, and options for affordable child care have dwindled due to staffing shortages, causing costs to only increase.
The Biden administration’s proposed $3.5 trillion plan is a massive overhaul of social services over 10 years. It allocates funding to fight climate change, expand health care, and invest in education, among other things.
In its current form, the plan would cover the cost of child care for families making below 75 percent of their state’s median income, cap the amount some families pay for child care at no more than 7 percent of their income, and guarantee free access to preschool services for 3- and 4-year-olds.
It also proposes boosting the compensation of child care workers, a step some providers in Massachusetts have taken themselves in an effort to solve a staffing crisis in child care and early education settings during the pandemic that’s emblematic of a labor shortage across the workforce.
But the path forward for the package has hit a number of snags, more than a month after a budget blueprint of the legislation passed in the House narrowly and along party lines. In addition to the conditions set by progressive members of the House, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, moderate members of the party, met with Biden at the White House this week over concerns that the price tag of the plan is too high.
“We’re obviously in a very sensitive time right now in these discussions, a pivotal time in these discussions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters about Biden’s meetings with the two senators during a press briefing on Tuesday. In a 50-50 Senate, Manchin and Sinema’s votes are necessary to pass the measure through the reconciliation budget process that avoids a filibuster.
Many members of Congress have in recent days cited child care as among the motivating factors for the passage of the reconciliation plan. They have maintained the push for the major social services legislation to move forward alongside the bipartisan infrastructure bill, voicing concern that amid the momentum for infrastructure legislation, the measure that was promised as complimentary to it will be left behind.
A number of progressive House lawmakers have said they would not vote to pass the infrastructure bill if it came before a vote on the reconciliation plan, potentially derailing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to introduce the $550 billion infrastructure measure for a vote on Thursday night.
In an op-ed published on CNN’s website Monday, Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Katie Porter, and Ilhan Omar cited sky-high costs of child care among their constituents’ top concerns and said they would only support the infrastructure bill if the “Build Back Better Act” is passed first.
Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday appeared on MSNBC to reiterate her position that the infrastructure bill and reconciliation package should move in tandem, citing child care as among the crucial issues that are motivating the push for the passage of the legislation.
The infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package must go together. @USProgressives are right: we can't let the train leave the station & leave families behind. We need child care, housing, health care, and to protect our climate. pic.twitter.com/1O9ugriP6D— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 29, 2021
Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark recently took to Twitter to share her own experience as a working mother to illustrate the importance of the plan’s passage.
When I was elected to Congress, I was balancing care for my 3 kids & 2 sick parents. I felt like I was failing everyone every day. Too many Americans struggle simply to work & provide for their families. Democrats are building an economy that works for working families. Tune in⬇️ https://t.co/cvalQeONo4— Katherine Clark (@RepKClark) September 24, 2021
According to the left-leaning Center for American Progress, families in the United States would save thousands of dollars per year with the passage of the package.
The center estimated that child care is currently costing Massachusetts families $436 per week, or about $22,600 per year. But if the Build Back Better Act passes in its current form, that number would drop to $254, or about $13,000 per year — an improvement, but still keeping Massachusetts as the state with the highest child care costs.