The Senate approved on March 10 a $1.5 trillion bipartisan spending package, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called “the strongest, boldest and most significant government funding package we’ve seen in a long time.”
The spending package, which is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden, includes $18.4 billion in funding for child care and early-learning programs.
“The proposed spending package includes much-needed funding for child care that will help millions of U.S. families,” said Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
“These funds are welcome, but they’re a drop in the bucket, especially considering the decimation of the country’s child-care industry during the COVID-19 pandemic — which was patchwork to begin with and lagging far behind other wealthy Western countries,” said Collins, an expert on gender inequality in the workplace and family life.
In December 2020, Collins and co-authors William Scarborough, of the University of North Texas, Leah Ruppanner, of the University of Melbourne, and Liana Christin Landivar, of the Maryland Population Research Center, published a study that demonstrated the importance of funding Head Start — the largest federally funded, early-childhood development program in the United States — to support families during the COVID-19 recession and to ensure a more stable economic recovery.
Using data from the 2007-09 Great Recession, they found that states with higher levels of Head Start enrollment experienced less poverty growth among families with young children during the last recession. They also experienced a faster and more stable economic recovery than states with lower Head Start enrollment.
The findings led the authors to recommend — at minimum — all states enroll 100% of eligible children without further restricting eligibility standards, which they estimated would cost an additional $14.4 billion. Ideally, they recommended a more proactive approach: broaden eligibility guidelines and funding to help keep vulnerable families out of poverty.
The research is clear: “Investing significantly more in programs like Head Start — for example, by expanding enrollment for all eligible families — can help families exit poverty and speed economic growth,” Collins said.