Talking Points

Talking points

Katherine Clark embarks on quest for federal child care subsidies

06/25/2018 SOMERVILLE, MA Congresswoman Katherine Clark (cq) spoke during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Green Line Extension on Prospect Street in Somerville. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Congresswoman Katherine Clark spoke during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Green Line Extension on Prospect Street in Somerville on June 25.

If you’re raising kids in the Boston area, you probably won’t be surprised that this is one of the most expensive places for child care in the country.

It’s a vexing issue, one that exacerbates the region’s persistent income inequality. That’s one reason why US Representative Katherine Clark is promoting a possible fix, and is seeking support for it among her colleagues on Capitol Hill this fall.

The Melrose Democrat is pushing legislation that would provide up to $14,000 in tax credits per tot to child care centers, to help defray an income-eligible family’s monthly bills. (She says the current federal deduction for child care is inadequate.) She filed this measure in March 2017 -- and it went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Congress.

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Democrats would need to take back the House in November, of course, or her bill would face a similar fate next year. (Clark, it’s worth noting, is in a race of her own, against GOP candidate John Hugo, although it seems unlikely that her suburban district will turn Republican on her.)

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Even if her party wins control in Congress, Clark is still embarking on a somewhat quixotic quest. She will need to jockey for attention amid a crowded list of priorities for the House Dems -- one that includes curbing drug costs, getting public infrastructure built, and reforming campaign finance rules. Clark will also need more allies in Congress, and in the business community.

Then there’s the cost: an estimated $40 billion a year, or more. Clark hinted that the recent corporate tax cut could be pared back to help pay for it. But it’s never politically easy to take back a tax cut. To Clark, it’s all about priorities. The staggering cost of child care comes up frequently on the campaign trail. She says investing in early childhood education can pay off in the end: Parents have more freedom to go back to work, children get enriching experiences in formative years, and lower-paid workers could see salary increases.

Maybe her idea gets scaled back, or incorporated in some form within someone else’s legislation. Maybe it doesn’t get much further than it did last year. It’s problematic that child care costs can add up more quickly than college tuition. At least, Clark says, she is getting people to talk about finding a solution.

Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him at jon.chesto@globe.com and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.