New Federal Legislation Proposes Groundbreaking Investment in Child Care Infrastructure

ECE   Featured   Policy  
Olivia BarrowMarch 16, 20210 Comments

Today Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) reintroduced the Child Care is Infrastructure Act, a bill that would invest $10 billion in our nation’s child care infrastructure over the next five years. This is the largest and most comprehensive proposed investment in child care facilities in modern history. It will provide resources for community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and other intermediaries to provide technical assistance and capacity building to child care providers.

LIIF proudly endorsed the Child Care is Infrastructure Act, which presents a critical opportunity to build a sustainable child care infrastructure system that increases supply, promotes health and safety, and builds capacity among providers. This federal investment takes an important step towards addressing the estimated $14 billion it would take to upgrade existing child care facilities to professional quality standards. Examples of improving the quality of facilities may include new HVAC systems to improve ventilation, renovations to make playgrounds and classrooms safe for children and staff, or installing child-sized toilets and sinks that are developmentally and age appropriate.

This bill follows the recently enacted $50 billion investment in the child care sector. This historic investment is an important first step to support and sustain child care providers who have remained open to care for children throughout the pandemic. It is also important to focus on the long-term sustainability of the sector, especially as the nation’s already limited supply of child care slots is further squeezed by programs permanently closing due to the pandemic. The Child Care is Infrastructure Act is a necessary complement that will help support a holistic economic recovery.

Importance of Child Care Facilities

Research has shown that the physical environment of early care and education (ECE) environments has profound impacts on child development, yet there is currently no dedicated source of federal funding to support child care infrastructure improvements. Since many child care businesses operate at exceptionally thin margins, providers are left with limited options to access capital or take on debt to make important facility modifications and upgrades.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has only exacerbated the existing challenges across the child care industry. Infrastructure upgrades and facility modifications that improve health and safety have become increasingly important to protect both children and the ECE workforce from the spread of the virus. These facility modifications are critical to these small businesses’ sustainability but are often prohibitively costly to achieve. Further, recent financial challenges have caused many child care providers to permanently close their programs, which poses serious consequences for the nation’s long-term supply of child care options.

About the Child Care is Infrastructure Act

As noted by the National Children’s Facilities Network (NCFN), which LIIF co-chairs, this legislation is groundbreaking due to its three-pronged approach to addressing facilities concerns:

  • Assessment of need. There is currently no comprehensive data available on the quality of our nation’s child care infrastructure. An accurate assessment of need is essential to any strategy that seeks to address the condition, quality, and availability of ECE facilities.
  • Dedicated capital for infrastructure grants. Dedicated federal funding for ECE infrastructure projects is necessary for stakeholders to assemble the financing required to acquire, construct and improve the health, safety, condition and quality of indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Intermediary technical assistance (TA). Many ECE operators rely on support from mission-oriented lenders like CDFIs who have developed decades of expertise assembling public and private sources of capital and deploying these resources to meet the diverse needs of community-based organizations. This TA is not only critical to ensuring effective navigation of construction and real estate financing but is also important to setting providers on a path to greater financial stability. This legislation makes a direct investment in intermediaries, including CDFIs, who have proven track-records in providing TA to ECE providers.

What’s Next?

Representative Clark first introduced this proposal in June 2020, and the bill language was ultimately included in two large packages that passed the House of Representatives last year: the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2) and the Childcare for Economic Recovery Act (H.R. 7327). However, neither of these packages were considered in the Senate. Representative Clark’s reintroduction of the bill this year provides another opportunity to advance the proposal, potentially as part of an infrastructure package or other large legislative vehicle in the coming months.

The Child Care is Infrastructure is an important complement to the $50 billion in federal resources recently enacted to stabilize the child care sector. Together, these resources can support a holistic economic recovery that both improves the quality of existing facilities and invests in expanding the supply of new child care slots.