Democrats seek to expand child care subsidies for poorer Californians

Legislators make push to expand child care access, but don't attach price tag to plan

Seeking to address California's high poverty rate, legislative leaders unveiled a plan Wednesday to expand access to state-subsidized child care. 

The plan -- by Senate leader Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) -- comes at a moment when subsidized child care is being heralded by Democrats nationwide as a crucial anti-poverty tool. President Obama, in a package of tax proposals released last month, called for tax deductions for child care to nearly triple, up to $3,000 for each child younger than 5. 

"Without addressing the issue of child care in this state -- from the lens of access, education, and quality -- we continue to force parents, children and our predominantly female workforce ... into a cycle of poverty," said Tonia McMillian, a child care provider and Service Employees International Union activist.



1:06 p.m.: An earlier version of this article gave the name of a child care provider and Service Employees International Union activist as Tonia McMillan. Her name is Tonia McMillian.


The proposal was announced at a spirited rally on the Capitol steps, complete with restless toddlers singing nursery rhymes.

The plan would increase the number of vouchers that very low-income families could use to place their infants or toddlers in day care, although backers did not offer an exact number of new slots -- or the price tag that it would carry.

"We're trying to take a realistic assessment of what we have in terms of resources, what the May revise [budget proposal] will look like and what the other priorities are for California," De Leon said in an interview. "I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We have to be aspirational, yet realistic too."

The vouchers could be used at private child care providers, both licensed and unlicensed. 

There are currently around 339,000 slots for subsidized care; backers, citing a report by the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, say approximately 1.2 million eligible children aren't receiving care.

The bill would also extend collective bargaining rights to child care providers, should they decide to unionize. Labor groups have unsuccessfully sought bargaining rights for those workers before; one such bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 and the most recent attempt died in the Legislature in 2013.

Early childhood education was a key negotiating point in last year's budget talks. De Leon's predecessor, former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), initially sought universal preschool access for California's 4-year-olds; the budget ultimately stopped short of that, but expanded preschool slots for some low-income families.

Now, a coalition of labor unions, education groups and anti-poverty organizations backing the bill wants to make day care more accessible for even younger children.

"We know that learning begins at birth or even before," said Mark Friedman, cochair of the Raising California Together coalition. "It’s important that children are in quality settings from the moment that they’re born, not just once they become 4-year-olds or 4½-year olds." 

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