Merkley Joins Bipartisan Effort to Address Shortage of Affordable Child Care

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in introducing the bipartisan Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act. Families across the country are struggling to access available child care, with rural communities increasingly becoming “child care deserts” due to the noticeable decline in the number of child care providers. This bipartisan bill would provide competitive grants for states to train child care workers and build or renovate child care facilities.

“As the pandemic has made clear, child care is essential infrastructure that makes all other work in our country possible,” said Senator Merkley. “For Oregon families, a year of child care rivals the cost of college tuition. That’s absurd. Middle class families deserve a break. By increasing workforce training and retention efforts and expanding and building more child care facilities, this bill will help ensure more parents can find the quality child care they need at a price they can afford.”

Even before COVID-19, many families were struggling to find affordable, quality child care. A national analysis found that half of all families live in neighborhoods classified as child care deserts, where there is an insufficient supply of quality child care. On average, child care deserts have maternal labor force participation rates that are three percentage points lower than in areas with a sufficient supply of child care providers. Despite child care workers being crucial to our economy, they rank among the bottom two percent of positions by salary. In 2021, the average pay for a child care worker was $13.22 an hour.

In addition to Merkley, Klobuchar, and Sullivan, this legislation is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). 

In particular, the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act would:

  • Address the shortage of affordable child care and qualified child care professionals, particularly in rural areas; 
  • Provide competitive grants to states to support the education, training, or retention of the child care workforce;
  • Provide competitive grants to states to build, renovate, and expand child care facilities in areas experiencing shortages; 
  • Require grant applicants to demonstrate how their projects would increase the availability and affordability of quality child care, and help child care workers continue advance their careers; and 
  • Enhance retention and compensation of quality child care professionals.

The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act has been endorsed by Save the Children and Children’s Institute, Family Forward Oregon, and Children’s Institute.

“While the pandemic and many of its ensuing challenges have subsided, our nation’s child care crisis continues to get worse. Families around the country are struggling, and desperately need access to high-quality and affordable child care. That’s why we’re so pleased that the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act is being reintroduced,” said Roy Chrobocinski, Managing Director of Domestic Federal Policy at Save the Children. “Families have struggled to find affordable care for far too long. We applaud Senators Klobuchar and Sullivan for their continued dedication to America’s families and child care workforce, and their perseverance in seeking solutions to our country’s worsening child care crisis.”

“Our entire economy is dependent on equitable access to child care. Like roads and bridges, affordable, high-quality child care is necessary infrastructure. Yet, even if we provided all families with affordable care and paid our providers the wages they deserved, families would still struggle to find care because we lack adequate physical space for all children who need care,” said Courtney Veronneau, Senior Political Director at Family Forward Oregon. “It’s critical that we invest in suitable child care infrastructure to meet the growing need for affordable, reliable, and quality child care. We appreciate Senator Merkley’s attention to this issue and his commitment to helping Oregon families.”

“Greater public investment in child care infrastructure is good for children and good for families. Across the country, demand for quality and affordable child care far exceeds the supply. In Oregon, more than half of counties have less than one child care slot available for every ten children,” said Kali Thorne Ladd, Chief Executive Officer at Children’s Institute. “The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act reintroduced by Senators Klobuchar and Sullivan will help parents work and get the education and training they need while strengthening state economies. A strong child care sector will also create quality opportunities for healthy development and early learning as children grow. An investment like this is an investment in our children, our families, and our future.”

Senator Merkley has consistently called for increased federal support to boost the child care industry and make child care more affordable for middle class families:

  • In March 2021, Merkley helped pass the American Rescue Plan, coronavirus relief legislation that includes multiple funding streams to support child care, such as $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and $24 billion for a COVID-19 child care relief and stabilization fund, which provides states with resources to offer immediate grants to child care providers struggling to stay open.
  • May 2021, Merkley cosponsored the Child Care for Working Families Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would make child care affordable for working families, expand pre-school access for 3- and 4-year olds, and increase compensation and provide training for child care workers.
  • And in June 2021, Merkley along with Senator Wyden and Senate colleagues urged congressional leadership to include at least $700 billion in direct funding over 10 years for child care as an essential component of infrastructure.

Companion legislation in the House of Representatives is led by Representative Josh Harder (D-CA).