On January 20, 2017, reporters at The Washington Post interviewed people who attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration. One of the attendees was a single mother of two from Maryland who worked as a massage therapist; she said that she hoped Trump would follow through on his pledge to make child care more affordable. Yet four years later, as the coronavirus crisis enters its seventh month in the United States, parents are struggling to find child care as they work essential jobs or attempt to work from home while supervising children.
Not only has Trump failed to deliver on his promise of making child care affordable for families, his administration’s inability to control the COVID-19 pandemic and provide adequate funds to safely reopen and fund child care has threatened the collapse of the entire industry. Due to these policy failures, many child care providers have been forced to shut their doors for good—and many more will follow suit if they do not receive federal help soon.
The Trump administration has failed to stabilize the child care industry during the pandemic
The coronavirus crisis revealed to many Americans what has always been true: The child care sector is essential for working parents and the country’s economy. Many child care providers have remained open throughout the pandemic to care for the children of essential workers and those called back to work. And though most child care providers are currently open, they are struggling financially to stay open due to increased expenses and reduced enrollment and revenue. As a result, 1 in 5 child care workers have lost their job since the pandemic began in March. Notably, while many small businesses have received emergency loans, few child care providers have received such relief either because they did not apply amid worries about not being able to pay back loans or because banks, who had discretion in approving loan applications, denied their applications.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Child Care Is Essential Act on July 29, but the White House and Congress could not agree on a final deal for a pandemic relief bill that includes significant funds for child care. Now, more than 80 percent of child care providers say that they will be forced to close permanently without further federal funding.
One in 3 American workers have children in the home. Without child care, these parents—especially mothers—will be forced to reduce their hours or leave the workforce entirely. The consequences to family economic security and the U.S. economy are far reaching and could slow economic recovery.
The Trump administration tried to derail Congress’ bipartisan increase in child care funding
The Trump administration claims that it implemented “historic” increases in child care funding. In reality, however, congressional leaders are to thank for what was the largest federal child care funding increase in history. Senate leaders struck a deal to pass a bipartisan budget deal that nearly doubled the annual appropriation for child care. Yet three days after Congress passed this increase, the White House proposed moving the child care funds to other programs.
Instead of the $2.4 billion increase that Congress had approved on a bipartisan basis, the Trump administration proposed an increase of only $169 million—just 7 percent of the increase supported by Congress. So, while the final appropriation bill did include a sizable increase in funding for child care, this was in spite of the Trump administration’s efforts to the contrary.
2017 tax law has left behind millions of low-income children
In addition to President Trump’s failures to stabilize the child care industry amid the coronavirus crisis, the tax law that he signed into law in 2017 has not made it any easier for lower-income families to access affordable care—increasing deficits by $1.9 trillion and heavily favoring corporations and wealthy Americans. Even the provision that Trump and his congressional allies frequently tout as pro-family prioritized the needs of wealthy families while leaving millions of low-income families behind. The value of the child tax credit (CTC) increased from $1,000 to $2,000 per child, but lower-income families cannot claim the full value and many hardly get any benefit.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a single mother of two earning the minimum wage receives a $75 boost from the tax law, whereas a married couple earning $400,000 with two children receives $4,000. In total, 11 million children receive a benefit of $75 or less from this law; and the families of about 1 million children were shut out of the CTC entirely.
Trump promised to make child care better. Instead, he has exacerbated the child care crisis to the detriment of child care providers and working parents. The economic impact of this failure could reverberate for decades as many mothers are forced out of the workforce. Families depend on mothers’ earnings to make ends meet, and mothers’ wages contribute significantly to their families and the economy. Without child care, the U.S. economy cannot recover and women and families will bear the brunt of this country’s leadership void. Child care investments must be a priority in the near term for economic recovery—and beyond.
Katie Hamm is the vice president of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. Seth Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Center. Colin Seeberger is the director of Media Relations at the Center.