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Elizabeth Warren prepared to unveil universal child care plan

Senator Elizabeth Warren in Glendale, Calif., on Monday.
Senator Elizabeth Warren in Glendale, Calif., on Monday.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Calif. — Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate, is set to release a sweeping proposal for universal child care on Tuesday, a plan she said would significantly increase the nation’s spending on child care and early learning and be paid for by a tax on the wealth of the richest Americans.

“The costs of child care are just crushing families,” Warren told an audience of about 1,400 in a theater 25 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles. “This will be about four times more than we have invested in our children, but that’s exactly what we need to do.”

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The plan — the outline of which were first reported Sunday by The Boston Globe — could vault the issue of child care into mainstream debate in the Democratic presidential primary. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have mentioned the issue of child care since beginning their own presidential campaigns, but Warren will be the first candidate to offer a detailed plan.

Warren spoke in an airy theater in Glendale in front of largest crowd that has come to see her since she made her presidential run official three weeks ago in Lawrence, Mass.

With another 300 people crowded outside, it was a muscular and energetic showing in a place where Harris, a Californian, is thought to have a home-state advantage in the Democratic primary. The crowd fell to a hush as Warren told the story of her upbringing in Oklahoma, laughed knowingly as she talked about her “twisty-turny” path as a college dropout who first married at 19, and roared when she called for all federal candidates to release their tax returns and declared she had the “biggest anti-corruption proposal since Watergate.”

The enthusiasm may have been partially due to voters’ excitement that a candidate had actually come to the state to talk to them. Campaign stops by presidential candidates are rare in California, which more commonly draws candidates for private fund-raisers with the rich and famous. But Warren, who has railed against the influence of money in politics, did not hold a fund-raiser during her visit here, according to a person familiar with her campaign.

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Here in Glendale, Warren’s three grandchildren made a rare appearance onstage, which allowed her to highlight her identity as a mother and a grandmother as she talked about her child care plan.

According to a source familiar with Warren’s proposal, it would create a network of child care providers and scale up the federal Head Start program, which offers early learning services to low-income families. Families earning less than 200 percent of the poverty line would have access to free child care, while those earning more would pay on a sliding scale topping out at 7 percent of a family’s income. Warren’s Senate office touted an analysis by the economists Mark Zandi and Sophia Koropeckyj, which found the plan would expand “formal child care” to 12 million children — from the 6.8 million who currently have it — and would cost about $70 billion annually.

To some degree, child care is a bipartisan issue, although some voters may balk at the size and cost of Warren’s proposal. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offered up child care plans during the 2016 election.

Hannah Matthews, the deputy executive director for policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy, said there has been progress on the issue in recent years, including a $2.4 billion increase in spending on Child Care and Development Block Grants signed into law by President Trump as part of a spending bill last year.

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“There’s momentum both in Congress and really in the desire of Americans to look at child care and take some serious action,” Matthews said.