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To Build Back Better, we must invest in our children, our families, our caregivers

Photo credit: Getty.
To Build Back Better, we must invest in our children, our families, our caregivers

Darcey Leone believes in the power of early childhood education – as much to prepare budding individuals for success later in life as to support working families and shore up the economy.

A child care provider on Long Island, New York, and a member of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000), Leone also says she loves what she does, and that the families she serves are grateful for the services they receive.

But she and many other caregivers across the country can barely afford to do it anymore.

“One of the biggest problems with running a family day care is that child care costs are so high and the market rate is so low,” Leone said at a virtual event last week with members of the Biden administration. “We’re essential workers and this industry is made up mostly of women and people of color. I have a staff of five, and I’m required to pay them $14 an hour. They deserve that and a lot more. But as for me, I make $6 an hour. Day cares are closing in our communities.”

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda seeks to address the child care crisis that’s affecting children, families and caregivers. To truly build back better, it’s not enough to invest in our country’s physical infrastructure. We must invest in our human infrastructure as well.

Build Back Better is a transformational plan to invest $3.5 trillion in America’s physical and human infrastructure – everything from roads and bridges to child care and home care to lowering the costs of prescription drugs and improving Medicare – all by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share. 

The Build Back Better agenda would ensure that child care providers would earn a living wage with federal funding based on the actual cost of care. It would also ensure that working families most in need don’t pay anything in child care, and that no middle-class family pays more than 7% of their income. This piece alone would save the average family $14,800 per year.

The plan would make universal preschool a reality, offering every parent access to high-quality preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. It would partner with states to achieve this goal and could help as many as five million families, in the administration’s estimate. This aspect of the plan would also save the average American family $13,000 per year.

In addition, Build Back Better calls for providing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which would help workers, families and businesses in crucial ways. AFSCME has long advocated for such leave, since it has been associated with many benefits, such as healthier kids, more robust participation in the labor force, improved financial security and higher productivity.

Marissa Wilson, a transition coordinator at the Deer Ridge Correctional Facility in Oregon and a member of AFSCME Local 2376 (Oregon AFSCME), is among the workers who would benefit from these elements of the Build Back Better agenda.

A mother of two children with disabilities, Wilson was without child care during parts of the coronavirus pandemic and desperate for it as she and her husband stitched together a dizzying schedule so that they could care for their kids and work.

“I would wake up at 3 a.m. and work till 8 a.m., then switch with my husband, who is a farmer, so he could go to work. I would be with the children online,” Wilson said at a virtual roundtable discussion last month. “When my husband came back home, I’d go back to the correctional institution and finish the rest of my day. The bottom line is workers like myself need child care options that go beyond the 9 to 5.”

Across the country, AFSCME members are encouraging their members of Congress to support the Build Back Better agenda. For years, because of budget cuts and austerity, public service workers have had to do more with less. And when the pandemic hit, short staffing levels and decades of underfunding left brave public service workers without the proper resources to keep themselves safe and public services running smoothly. Still, public service workers rose to the challenge and continue to battle the pandemic while delivering essential services.

AFSCME members were instrumental in getting Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan, which sent $350 billion in aid to states, cities, town and schools to fund vital public services and jobs and delivered working families the relief they needed from the pandemic’s economic toll. 

Now, Congress has a real chance to pass an ambitious agenda that will make long-term investments in our communities, making them stronger than ever.

Pass the Full Build Back Better Agenda

Join public service workers across the country encouraging their members of Congress to support working families and invest in our communities. Tell Congress: Pass the full Build Back Better agenda.

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