Alexander to Administration: Follow Law that Allows Working Parents to Choose Child Care Best for Their Child

Says administration’s proposal goes against bipartisan law that helps low-income working parents pay for child care of their choice, mainly through vouchers

Posted on June 15, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 15 – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today told the administration to follow the bipartisan 2014 law that says that parents should be allowed to choose the child care best for their child.

At a hearing on implementation of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, Alexander said the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) new proposal implementing the law violates the bipartisan law established to “allow each state maximum flexibility in developing childcare programs and to promote parental choice.”

Alexander said to HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development Linda Smith, “I’m puzzled by the proposed rule that would require all state agencies to use at least some grants or contracts to pay for childcare services. The way I understand it, there is one pool of federal dollars, and a state may use it for vouchers for working parents to choose a center for their child, or they may use it for grants or contracts. But if you require a state to use it for grants or contracts, that diminishes the amount of money necessarily that may be available for vouchers. So why doesn’t the proposed rule squarely contradict the Scott amendment – which we just adopted in 2014 to stop an attempt to do this in 2013 – and why doesn’t it violate the law from the day it was started?”

He continued, “The whole purpose of the law was to make these sort of Pell grants for early education. It would give working parents a choice of providers. And they might be public, they might be private, they could even be sponsored by religious institutions. And that’s worked very well.  … These [are] basically vouchers for working parents in the same way that we give vouchers to college students, which has been maybe the most successful social program we’ve ever had.”

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 updated and reauthorized the main federal law affecting state child care programs for low-income working families for the first time since 1996. This program gives grants to Tennessee and other states to help, low-income working families pay for child care, mainly through vouchers that let them choose the best facility for their children while the parent works or attends school.

In December 2015, HHS issued a proposed rule regarding the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 that would require state agencies to use at least some grants or contracts to pay for childcare services – taking away from the law’s focus on vouchers, which allow parents to choose the child care that’s right for their child. This violates the bipartisan law, which clearly prohibits the federal government from promoting grants or contracts over the use of vouchers. Instead, the law gives states maximum flexibility in developing child care programs and policies that best suit the needs of children and parents. According to HHS, approximately 90 percent of children served through this program in 2014 received vouchers.

In 2014, the Senate also passed an amendment offered by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to reaffirm the law and block the department’s previous attempt to deprive states of their ability to give low-income working parents choice in child care by offering vouchers. Scott’s amendment stated, “Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed in a manner to favor or promote the use of grants and contracts for the receipt of child care services under this subchapter over the use of child care certificates; or to disfavor or discourage the use of such certificates for the purchase of child care services, including those services provided by private or nonprofit entities, such as faith-based providers.”

Alexander is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. 


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