From left, Rep. Chris Deluzio (PA-17), House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (MA-05) and Nicole Partaka, director of La Petite Academy, listen as Christina Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority, describes the academy on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. Deluzio and Clark toured the academy, a new childcare facility at the airport, to highlight federal funding of childcare. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)
The second most senior member of Congress joined Rep. Chris Deluzio (PA-17) on Saturday in a place where everything seemed tiny. The two lawmakers were surrounded by undersized tables and chairs. Miniature bathroom stalls lined a back wall. A small wooden airplane sat on a bookshelf.
There was, however, nothing miniature about the issue that brought Deluzio and U.S. House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (MA-05) to La Petite Academy, a new child care facility at Pittsburgh International Airport. Their concern: A lack of affordable, high-quality childcare for working parents.
The academy, the lawmakers said, is a child care model others can follow – it’s close to where parents work, it’s affordable and it opens early enough for those assigned to early shifts. But it’s not the norm.
Child care is a sector in crisis. Facilities struggle to retain talented workers because the pay is so low. Raising the pay often means increasing tuition — and that’s a problem, since the cost of child care is already a barrier for many working parents. This “death spiral” for child care facilities is avoidable if the federal government steps in, Deluzio said.
Clark agreed. “We have to make sure the federal government is helping to ease the conundrum we have where the only way to raise pay is to raise tuition,” Clark said.
She noted that the most childcare workers are women – predominantly women of color. As a result of the low pay, these women struggle to care for their own families.
Voters are paying attention to the issue. A poll released in July showed that 74 percent of voters think federal funding for childcare and early learning programs should be increased. That includes 61 percent of Republican voters and 86 percent of Democratic voters.
“Since the pandemic, there really has been a paradigm shift” in how childcare is viewed, Clark said. “It is not just considered a private matter for families. We understand it is the underpinning of our economy. It truly is economic infrastructure.”
The lack of affordable and available child care “hurts working families,” Deluzio said. “You see it when folks are so excited when their first kid is kindergarten age. They’re in public school and finally the family is free of struggling to pay for child care.”
The federal government stepped up during the pandemic to keep child care centers afloat, but that funding expired in September. President Joe Biden and the Democrats want to extend that funding another year at a cost of $16 billion.
“It’s a huge investment,” Clark said. “But we know that childcare and its impact on the economy is so well studied, and the most conservative studies show that for every dollar we put in we get $7 dollars back. The U.S. is well behind developed nations. We put in, on average, about $500 dollars towards toddler care. Other nations are at $15,000.”
Without Republican support, however, the Democrats’ have little hope of actually passing legislation, something Clark acknowledged.
“When given the chance, they cut childcare,” she said of the GOP. The Republicans’ budget proposal would eliminate more than 240,000 early educators, she said. “It’s moving in the wrong direction. What Chris and I and the Democratic caucus are working on is, ‘let’s lay the plans, let’s keep pushing, let’s use the White House, get as much as we can, but be ready to go when we win the majority back” in the next election.
Deluzio said he’ll continue bringing up the federal government’s role in helping provide affordable and accessible child care and the GOP stance on the issue. “We’re going to be reminding people of that every day,” he said.
La Petite Academy opened in September and is available to airport employees seeking to balance work with raising young children – the center provides an early learning experience for infants, toddlers, preschool and pre-kindergarten-aged children. Airport employees can drop off their children and then head to work a short distance away. The facility opens at 6 a.m., early enough for parents who need to drop off children before beginning their early shifts.
Deluzio praised the academy. “We’re seeing good leadership and a model of an employer that can do this. Let’s expand that and make sure the federal government is making that investment too.”
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