Los Angeles Times

Harris and Yellen urge Congress to enhance access to child care

- BY ERIN B. LOGAN Times staff reporter Noah Bierman contribute­d to this report.

WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris pressed lawmakers on Wednesday to back legislatio­n that she said would expand access to child care and raise the wages of daycare workers, even as her party’s massive spending initiative is facing resistance from key Democrats.

The push from Harris, who joined Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen in releasing a Treasury report that made the case for the proposal, came the same day that President Biden was reported to have met with a pair of centrist Democrats who have indicated they do not support the overall costs of the party’s $3.5-trillion spending plan.

Without support from those two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — the bill is all but certain to fail.

The legislatio­n includes historic levels of spending on the child-care programs touted by Harris, as well as on healthcare, education, family services and environmen­tal initiative­s. Much of it would be paid for with tax increases on wealthy people and corporatio­ns. The White House did not immediatel­y respond to an email inquiring about Biden’s negotiatio­ns with the senators.

In her first visit as vice president to the Treasury Department, Harris described the “mass exodus” of women from the job market amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a “national emergency” and said many have left the workforce to take on child-care duties.

This measure is a way to get these women back to work, Harris said. “If we intend to fully recover from the pandemic ... and fully compete on a global scale,” she said, “we must ensure the full participat­ion of women in the workforce.”

Democrats have not fully detailed how they would pay for the $3.5-trillion measure. House Democrats are proposing to pay for the bill in part by raising taxes on individual­s earning more than $400,000 a year — $450,000 for couples — while levying a 3% tax on Americans whose annual adjusted income tops $5 million. They also proposed boosting taxes on big businesses from 21% to 26.5% on annual income over $5 million.

Republican­s have maintained a unified front against the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a Monday statement called the bill an “effort to move our country to the left forever” and a “reckless taxing and spending spree.” He also warned that it would be a “massive new government intrusion into Americans’ childcare arrangemen­ts.”

Through subsidies and by expanding the child tax credit, which is set to lapse at the end of the tax year, the Democratic legislatio­n would ensure that most families would not spend more than 7% of their income on child care, according to a Treasury report. The average family with at least one child younger than 5 spends about 13% of its income on child care, the report said. If passed, the legislatio­n could save the average family about $15,000 a year in childcare costs, Harris said.

The Biden administra­tion is also proposing to raise child-care workers’ wages. An average childcare worker earned $12.24 per hour in 2020, according to the report. Nationally, a living wage for a single adult was $16.54 per hour in 2019, according to MIT’s living wage calculator. In 41 states, more than 15% of child-care workers live below the poverty line and half rely on public assistance programs, according to the report.

The spending bill’s childcare provisions are politicall­y popular and are not the reason the bill faces an uncertain future. Though Democrats control the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) can lose only three votes, and she is having to navigate difficult politics pitting progressiv­es, many of whom would like to see more robust spending on social programs, against centrists who are concerned about the bill’s price tag.

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