Family leave & childcare
I am a new mom, and like many parents in Ward 6 I know how hard it is to adjust to having a baby in the family. Doctors recommend that parents take a minimum of 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn child, and for good reason. My husband and I were fortunate to be able to take leave after our daughter was born, and it was still a struggle to adjust to our new life, and learn on the job as new parents.
The 2016 paid family leave bill ignores this recommendation and only affords parents with 8 weeks of leave. This is clinically insufficient, and places substantial pressure on parents to secure childcare four weeks earlier than they would otherwise need to. Moreover, our current council member is entertaining efforts led by the Chamber of Commerce to roll it back even further.
The paid family leave threshold must be raised to at least 12 weeks in order to meet the minimum standard recommended by pediatricians to ensure the health and well-being of parents and newborn children. This is a matter of basic health care, and public health policy in the District of Columbia must always be based on evidence and science, not the positions of the Chamber of Commerce.
We recently transitioned our daughter into daycare, and could not believe how difficult it was to secure safe, affordable childcare in DC. Even before our daughter was born, we were asked to submit applications to various day care centers, all of which required non-refundable deposits of at least $100.
We are fortunate to have found a great option that we are able to afford. Unfortunately, the cost and scarcity of daycare in Washington makes it completely inaccessible to many families. Childcare in DC costs an average of $2,597 per month - or $31,158 per year - which is approximately 150 percent of what is paid by those receiving child care in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. How can we say we are doing our best as a city to meet the needs of DC families if we aren’t providing affordable, safe, accessible options for everyone?
The federal child care tax credit is capped at $3,000 per child and $6,000 per family, which is less than 20 percent of the annual cost for a DC family and does not provide any relief from burdensome upfront costs. DC operates a federally-funded child care subsidy program that is inaccessible to many and not relieving the burden for those who need it most.
In addition to being expensive, high-quality child care in DC is scarce, in part because we are not doing nearly enough to support child care workers. According to Child Care Aware of America, child care workers in DC make an average of $26,470, far below the city’s median income of $65,830. What’s more, beginning in 2020 DC will require that child care workers receive a college degree, which will only further limit the pool of teachers and make it more difficult for highly qualified people to enter and remain in the field.
DC has a moral obligation to ensure our city’s children have access to safe childcare that isn’t bankrupting families. Low-income families are not accessing the federal program at the rates we should expect to see, so DC must do more to promote them and encourage enrollment. Building on the Federal program, DC must expand access to daycare subsidies to families up to 450 percent of the federal poverty level. Child care is a matter of public health, and this threshold is equivalent to what experts and policymakers deem necessary to help low income families under President Obama’s health reform plan.
We also need policies that incentivize childcare workers to enter, remain and grow in their positions long-term. The current policy set to be fully implemented in 2020 requiring childcare workers to have defined associate’s and bachelor’s degrees does the opposite. The DC Council must repeal this law and instead work to implement appropriately tailored training, accreditation and certification programs administered by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Centralized standards and competencies are critical to ensure child safety and growth within the daycare setting, but policies that require expensive and unnecessary degrees as prerequisite to childcare will decrease the workforce, decrease access to affordable quality childcare, and place low-income workers at a disadvantage as they find themselves unable to pursue careers in childcare for which they are well qualified.