February 09, 2022

At Hearing, Warren Makes Case for Big, Bold Investments To Ensure Child Care Is Affordable and Accessible for Millions of Families

During the pandemic, 10,000 child care providers have closed their doors and the child care industry is down 136,000 workers; 7,000 child care jobs evaporated during the latest omicron wave

Video of Hearing Exchange

Washington, D.C. – At today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made the case for bold investments in child care as the economy and American families recover from the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, the child care industry was in crisis, but the economic fallout from COVID-19 made it impossible for many providers to keep their doors open. COVID has forced more than 10,000 child care providers to close their doors, and thousands more to reduce capacity – the industry has yet to recover 136,000 workers compared to early 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7,000 child care jobs were eliminated during the latest omicron wave. Millions of American families rely on child care providers to get parents back to work and ensure their children have a safe place to play, learn, and grow with others. However, not only has the cost become unreachable for many families – the median family spends 25% or more of its income on child care, according to a recent survey – the lack of availability has led many parents to cut hours, switch jobs, or leave the workforce altogether.

During the hearing, Senator Warren questioned January Contreras, the nominee for HHS Assistant Secretary for Family Support, about the need to stabilize the child care sector. In response to Senator Warren, Contreras said that the cost and the unavailability of child care are “greater problems than they were before the pandemic” and committed to working with Senator Warren  to invest in child care: “our job is to make sure we have a stable child care sector for kids and for parents. And you have my commitment to work with you on that so that we're speaking to providers on the ground. We're helping them to support their workforce. And that we're building stability into that sector.”

Senator Warren has consistently called for immediate support for the child care industry. Last year, in a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Policy hearing, experts agreed with Senator Warren that investment in child care is critical to strong economic recovery. Beginning in August 2020, Senators Warren and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) successfully led calls for $50 billion for child care, with $40 billion included in the American Rescue Plan, $10 billion in the December-passed relief bill, and $3.5 billion in the CARES Act. In June 2021, Senator Warren and more than 100 Colleagues urged leadership to include $700 billion for child care in the infrastructure package. She has also introduced a number of bills that would invest in child care, including the Building Child Care for a Better Future Act and the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act. Senators Warren, Smith, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) released a new report highlighting the critical need to expand and invest in our child care system and calling for $700 billion to support investments in child care as the country heads towards a post-pandemic economic recovery. She’s also published op-eds on the need for child care, including one with Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union. 

Transcript: Senate Finance Hearing to Consider the Nominations of Robert Michael Gordon, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services and Rebecca E. Jones Gaston, of Oregon, to be Commissioner on Children, Youth, and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Senate Finance Committee
Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Mrs. Contreras, you are nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families. And that means that if confirmed, you will oversee a number of important programs at HHS, including child care and Head Start.

Now, millions of American families, right now, rely on child care providers so that parents can go to work, and millions of children are in child care where they get a chance to play and learn and grow.  But our child care system is in crisis. 

Things were bad enough before the pandemic, with millions of parents unable to find quality child care that they could afford. 

But now COVID has forced more than 10,000 child care providers to close their doors, and thousands more to reduce capacity.  Even with record job creation this past year, the child care industry is still down 136,000 workers compared with early 2020. 7,000 child care jobs evaporated during this latest omicron wave.

So Mrs. Contreras, may I ask, a child care shortage means that it’s even harder for families to find a center with an open slot for a child. But does it also have an impact on what child care costs?

January Contreras: Thank you for that question, Senator Warren, and thank you for your leadership on this issue. I agree with you that child care costs, uh, they're a challenge for American families. I represented many struggling, young mothers for whom child care is simply not within reach. When we look at the cost of child care, I think one thing that we've seen is during the pandemic, there were too many-- there are too many child care providers who are struggling and too many who, if not closed as you mentioned, are facing closure. I believe one study that I read showed that providers have seen nearly a 50% increase in their costs in part due to the pandemic, and that's since the start of the pandemic. We have to do better. You have my commitment, if confirmed, that I  will be working with you - a partner - working with providers on the ground to support their work force and to support providers so that we're making sure that we are taking care of the people who are taking care of our kids.

Senator Warren: Well, I very much appreciate that. You know, the numbers are just really awful in this area. HHS considers child care affordable when it costs no more than 7% of a family's income. And yet, the medium family - that's the family right in the middle - they're choosing child care right now is paying 25% of their income. Think about that. More than three times what HHS deems as affordable. So families are paying more for child care.  And let me just ask: has the cost of providing that care gone up during the pandemic, Mrs. Contreras?

Contreras: They do, Senator. I think they go both in hand. That's what we've seen. Yet the cost of child care and even the availability of it are greater problems than they were before the pandemic. But also that we're seeing that providers are-- they experience these very high increases in the cost to them. And our job is to make sure we have a stable child care sector for kids and for parents. And you have my commitment to work with you on that so that we're speaking to providers on the ground. We're helping them to support their workforce. And that we're building stability into that sector. 

Senator Warren: So families are paying more. Child care centers are spending more. Things like masks and tests. Their ratios of supervisors to children. And yet, child care workers are not making any more  money. In fact, for many of them, they'd make more money if they left and went to Walmart than they will working at a child care center. One survey found - this has real consequences for families - one survey found that to save money on child care, 94% of parents had recently resorted to reducing work hours, switching jobs, or leaving the workforce altogether.

So let me ask just one more question. See if we can do this quickly. There's a lot we need to do to invest in child care in this country. Are you worried that if more help doesn't come quickly, we're going to see more centers closing their doors and even fewer children and parents who have access to high quality, affordable child care?

Contreras: Senator, we do have to get to work to make sure that we have a stable sector, and we need to put the supports there. You have a partner if confirmed. 

Senator Warren: Good. We need to make big investments in child care. That's part of what Build Back Better is all about. And it's time for us to get this done. Thank you. And thank you all for being here.