Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: “Childcare Development Block Grants”

Posted on March 13, 2014

            I want to say to the senator from Iowa how much I appreciate working with him.    We were talking yesterday, and he told me -- I think I have these facts about right -- that our committee in this Congress has reported 17 bills that have passed the Senate and 10 that have become law, which I suspect exceeds that of any other committee.  As our hearing this morning on the minimum wage showed, it is not because we always agree with each other all the time.  We probably have the most ideologically split committee in the Congress by party, but we get a lot done.  That is due in great measure to the way the senator from Iowa leads the committee, and I appreciate that very much. 

I will have more to say about Senator Burr and Senator Mikulski in a few moments because they have done the yeoman's work on this.  They are the leaders of this effort.  They immersed themselves in it for the last two years.  They brought it to a position which convinced everybody on the committee it was time to move ahead, but that is not where we were when we started.  We had lots of differences of opinions, and we came to a conclusion that they will be explaining in detail. 

So the way we will proceed today is this.  After my remarks, Senator Mikulski and Senator Burr will step up and begin to manage the bill.  Senator Harkin and I will be here.  We are continuing right through the afternoon. 

We hope that senators will bring their amendments to the floor.  What we are hoping to do is to have a debate about the child care and development block grant.  We are hoping to have amendments, and we will have votes on those amendments.  It is not our desire to pick this Democratic amendment or this Republican amendment.  If you have an amendment on the child care and development block grant that is related to the bill, please bring it over and talk to Senator Burr, Senator Mikulski, Senator Harkin or me, and we will start lining them up.  There will be time for debate.  There will be a vote and it will be considered.

Our hope is to have votes this afternoon, votes tomorrow morning, and to let senators know that there won't be votes tonight so they can plan their schedules.  Senator Burr will talk more about that and the time for attempting to conclude the bill tomorrow.  That is our goal.  That is the way the Senate traditionally has worked.  It is the way we hope it works today. 

Since Senator Mikulski from Maryland and the senator from North Carolina have done the principal amount of work on the bill, I see no need for me to go through the details of the bill.  I think they are better equipped and prepared to do that.  Let me try to put the whole effort in perspective before I step aside and Senator Mikulski and Senator Burr step up. 

During World War II there were a great many mothers, women, who took jobs outside the home.  That was different.  In our agricultural society families worked together.  As the industrial society in America developed during the 20th century, men largely went away from home to work and women mostly worked at home. 

            But in World War II something different happened.  Many of the men were overseas fighting.  There was a lot of work to be done at home, and so women took jobs in the factories that they didn't have before.  That produced a new phenomenon in the American society, which was called worksite daycare.  Someone had to take care of the children.  In many cases companies employing large numbers of women during World War II provided sites at the workplace so that mothers could bring their children while they worked. 

Then after the war was over, things went back to the way they were before, and most American women worked at home.  That began to change probably in the 1970s.  It is probably fair to say that the greatest social change in our country over the last 40 years has been the gradual and steady phenomenon of more women in the workplace outside the home and the adjustments our society has made to that. 

I was lucky.  I had an early head start in the little town of Maryville, Tennessee, where I grew up at the edge of the Smoky Mountains.  My mother had one of the town’s two preschool education programs.  She had it in a converted garage in her backyard.  She had been trained in Kansas and in a settlement house in Chicago.  It is hard for me today to imagine how she could do this, but she had 25 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the morning and 25 5-year-olds in the afternoon.  That was Mrs. Alexander's preschool, which we called the institution of lower learning. 

She had nowhere else to put me, so I became the first senator to have 5 years of kindergarten, which I probably needed, but which gave me a head start.  It gave me the understanding of what Senator Harkin said earlier -- that research then, but especially now, shows the brain develops at least from the moment of conception and that all of the influences around an infant are important to that person's development over a long period of time. 

Most parents who understand that want to make sure that they are with a child at a very early age stimulating that child, or if they can't be with their child for some period of time for some reason, someone else is looking after their child.  Along with the changing role of women in the workforce came the idea of more childcare. 

I remember in 1986 when I was governor of Tennessee, the head of our human services division -- a woman named Marguerite Sallee, now Marguerite Kondracke -- came to me, and she proposed that I ask the businesses in Tennessee to create 1,000 worksite daycare places.  I was kind of taken aback by that because I didn't understand the need for it, and I didn't think the businesses would do it voluntarily. Well, we did that, and we got twice as many worksite daycare places as we requested.  It was good for businesses to do and there was plenty of demand for it from the parents who had to take their children to work.  The next year I was out of a job -- I was through with my time as governor -- and so was Marguerite.  Along with Captain Kangaroo -- Bob Keeshan -- my wife, and Brad Martin, we founded a company called Corporate Child Care, which provided worksite daycare places.  After about 10 years, it merged with its major competitor Bright Horizons, and they became what is today the largest provider of worksite daycare in the world. 

Companies have realized the importance of worksite daycare, but not all mothers and fathers can send their children to Bright Horizons while they work, and so there came to be a recognition that there needed to be some response by the federal government. 

The next year, about 1988, the first federal childcare programs came into existence.  In 1996, the law we are considering today was basically a part of the reform of the Welfare Act.  It is a remarkable law because it involves lots of state flexibility.  In other words, it acknowledges that what is good for Maryland may not be good for North Carolina.  It models our higher education system by letting the money follow the child to the institution that the parent thinks is best for their child.  These are vouchers.  It has gradually grown to an area where we spend $5 billion or $6 billion of taxpayers' money each year to provide about 1 1/2 million children with an opportunity for childcare. 

I will mention one success story so we have an example of exactly what we are talking about.  I am thinking of a young mother in Memphis, TN, who was attending LeMoyne-Owen College and earning a business degree.  She had an infant child, and so she put that child in a childcare center she chose.  The voucher, through this program we are talking about today, provided $500 to $600 a month to help pay for the bill.  Infant childcare is especially expensive.  If you think about it, this is understandable.    

The success part of the story is that she earned her degree.  She is now an assistant manager at Walmart in Memphis.  She has a second child who attends the same childcare center now, but she earns enough to pay the full cost.    

This program encourages work, it encourages job training, and for those Americans who are low income and working or low income and training or educating themselves for a job, this helps them get that job.  This is an important bill for many families. 

In Tennessee, we have about 20,000 families affected each month and nearly 40,000 children.  It is a big help to them.  It makes a difference in their lives. 

I thank Senator Mikulski and Senator Burr for their work on this legislation.  I know of no two senators in this body who approach issues in a more serious, effective, and determined way.  They also understand that in a body of 100 members, where we each have a right to object, that no bill is going to be exactly what any of us want. 

For example, I am leery of the extent of the background checks required by this bill, which is one of its major accomplishments.  As a former governor, I am very skeptical of Washington setting rules for states, but I accept the compromise they have agreed to with the background checks.  We talked that matter through, and I think it is a sound proposal.  I congratulate them for the way they have done this over the last 2 years and the way we have approached it. 

                I will conclude with where I started.  We are asking senators to join us in a debate about the child care and development block grant.  We hope senators will come to the floor with their ideas on it.  We know there are a number of senators who have amendments on both sides of the aisle.  What we are saying to those senators is if you have an amendment that is related to our bill, you will have a chance to talk about it and you will have a chance for it to be voted on and perhaps accepted by the full Senate, and hopefully this bill will go to the House and become law.               

We know that has not been the story as often as it should be in the Senate, but we would like to see that happen more often.  It requires a little bit of restraint on the part of each of us as senators.  We can't all exercise all of our rights all the time and get anything done.  It requires some trust and restraint on the part of our leaders, Senator Reid and Senator McConnell.  We appreciate them turning the management of the bill over to Senator Mikulski and Senator Burr, with Senator Harkin and me in support of their efforts. 

We appreciate the cooperation of the many senators who have already come up with excellent amendments and notified us about them.  Senator Burr and Senator Mikulski know about them and will talk about them. 

At this stage, I wish to step down and turn this matter over to Senator Mikulski first, and then Senator Burr.  We invite senators to come over.  We will continue through lunch and discuss, debate, talk, and begin voting on the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization. 

On Senator Enzi’s amendment:

            I thank the senators from Iowa and North Carolina. 

            I also thank the senator from Wyoming for his leadership.  For a number of years he was the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and while he was there he focused on trying to help us spend our money more efficiently -- which all of us want to do. 

            Sometimes we forget that Head Start is not the only early learning program we have in the country.  It is the most famous.  It is best known.  It is very popular with most people.  It is about $8.6 billion, but the bill we are debating today, the child care and development block grant, is another $5.3 billion.  It is two-thirds the size of Head Start and affects 1.5 million children.  And then there is another of $5 billion or so of federal funding for early learning and early childhood. 

            Without getting into a debate about whether we should have new programs, I think there is a consensus among most of us that we should at least start by taking the money we are spending for early childhood and spend it wisely.     

            One step we took a few years ago was to create centers of excellence for Head Start.  This was, I believe, in 2007.  The idea there was that the governor of each state would be permitted to pick at least two communities or cities where they were doing the best job of spending money in a coordinated way for early learning and childhood development.  Not only are these 18 billion federal dollars being spent, but many states have additional funding for early childhood, most states have kindergarten programs, and many states have programs for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds.  The idea was to see if we could encourage Nashville or Denver or Des Moines to take a look at all the children between 0 and 6 and all the dollars being spent -- public, private, federal, state and local -- and see who is doing the best job of putting that all together.  It is always a problem with a big, complex country such as this when you have a decentralized government and there are several layers.  There are lots of silos, and children don't live in silos.  They are by themselves needing help and we need to find a way of getting the money to them.  So the centers of excellence was a modest beginning to try to encourage better spending of what is up to $18 billion of money already being spent. 

            I think Senator Enzi's amendment, which I strongly support, would give us more information about how to better spend the federal dollars we already spend for early childhood.  I simply wanted to call the attention of the Senate and others who may be paying attention to that centers for excellence program.  In the committee chaired by the senator from Iowa, we had excellent testimony from the Representative from Denver who had one of the first centers of excellence.  She talked about the progress they have made in taking all the available money and using it in the most effective way to help children.        

            I hope as we move along through the process of dealing with the debate about how do we do a better job of early childhood education that we consider centers of excellence, and I hope Senator Enzi's amendment is adopted today because it will help us.  It will make us a better steward of taxpayer dollars and that means doing a better job of helping children. 


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