Obama Seeks $80b More For Child Care

Posted on January 23, 2015
Kids w/ Flag

LAWRENCE, Kan. — President Obama on Thursday unveiled plans to greatly increase federal assistance to working Americans struggling to afford child care, choosing a Democratic pocket in a solidly Republican state to sharpen the contrast between the parties’ economic visions.

In an appearance at the University of Kansas, Obama called for an $80 billion expansion of a federal program that provides child care subsidies to low- and middle-income families with children ages 3 and younger, nearly doubling the aid and offering it to more than 1 million additional children over the next decade.

He promoted his plan to nearly triple, to $3,000 per child, the maximum child care tax credit. And the president said he would push to put more federal money into early childhood programs, expanding the availability of free preschool and extending Head Start — focused on low-income families — to last an entire day and for the full school year.

“These aren’t just nice-to-have’s, this is a must-have,” Obama told several thousand people in a hulking gymnasium on the campus. “It is time that we stop treating child care as a side issue or a, quote-unquote ‘women’s issue.’ This is a family issue, this is a national economic priority for all of us.”

Obama is engaging in a well-worn tradition of presidents taking their State of the Union themes out of Washington and around the country — but with a twist. His trips this week, to Idaho on Wednesday and here Thursday, are in places controlled by Republican governors and members of Congress.

“I’m a Kansas guy,” the president said, noting that although his mother was a native, those roots did not help him to carry the state in either of his presidential campaigns. “I might have won sections of Lawrence — that’s possible,” he said with a smile, acknowledging the Democratic bent of the college town of about 90,000.

Lawrence is “this little blue dot in a red sea here,” said Burdett A. Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas. “Going to two of the very reddest states in the country in the wake of a State of the Union address that was very much a blue address, the president is laying down a lot of challenges to the Republican Congress.”

Loomis was an aide to Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s former secretary of health and human services, when she was the state’s Democratic governor. He said the economy in Kansas under the current Republican governor, Sam Brownback — who has cut taxes for high earners and business, slashed spending on education, and declined to expand Medicaid — offered a “stark difference” with the vision Obama is laying out for helping the middle class.

Kansas is also home to Koch Industries and ground zero for the conservative political empire of the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.

In his State of the Union speech, Obama argued that providing high-quality child care for families in which both parents work was an economic imperative. On Thursday, he said that in 31 states, a year of “high-quality” child care currently costs more than a year of in-state tuition.

White House officials said while the average subsidy for low- and moderate-income families under the federal Child Care and Development Fund was $5,500 in 2013, Obama’s expansion of the program would aim to cover the entire cost of high-quality care, an average of $10,000. And the number of children covered would nearly double, to 2.6 million in 2025.

The increased subsidies and tax credits would be financed by Obama’s plan to increase taxes on investments and inherited wealth, as well as a fee on large financial institutions. The preschool initiative would be paid for by increasing tobacco taxes.