The Kansas City Star: PACE Act is a bipartisan path to affordable child care

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Washington, October 7, 2017 | comments

House Republicans have said that “we have a once-in-a- generation opportunity to enact bold, pro-growth tax reform that will create jobs, grow paychecks, and unleash American competitiveness.” House Democrats are committed to a “better deal” and “better wages” for Americans of all stripes. President Donald Trump campaigned on bringing “federal policies in line with the needs of today’s working parents.”

If you’re willing to look beyond the cynical politics of our time, you’ll see that these goals align more than they diverge.

Talk to Americans in diners, factories, classrooms and small businesses like we have, and you’ll discover most want their leaders to work together for the betterment of our country, not to bicker over petty differences. In this spirit, we believe it’s possible to make meaningful progress toward our shared goals. And we have a bipartisan plan to do it.

Right now, more Americans have jobs than at any point in our nation’s history. But many who want to work still remain on the sidelines, and many who are working one or more full-time jobs still can’t make ends meet. A key reason behind both troubling trends is the high cost of child care.

Last year, an NPR poll found that seven of ten American parents have experienced financial problems as a result of child care expenses. This is not a surprising result when you consider that child care and nursery school costs have nearly tripled over the last twenty-five years. Right now, in our home states of Kansas and Florida, child care costs more than in-state tuition at a four-year public college.

Every American family — regardless of socioeconomic status, political affiliation, or geographic location — should have the opportunity to prepare their children for the future with an excellent early-childhood education. This is a matter of principle, not partisanship.

This is about mothers who, despite working multiple jobs, can barely scrape together enough money to cover the cost of child care on top of their household’s basic needs. This is about fathers who have passed up job opportunities because they need to take care of their children. Access to affordable child care is as important to a Trump voter in central Florida as it is to a Clinton voter in Kansas.

That’s why we’ve come together, not as a Republican and a Democrat, but as two working parents with young children, to improve access to the federal child care tax credit and flexible spending accounts.

Our legislation is called the Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone, or PACE Act. Far from another congressional acronym, this is truly what we believe — that Congress can, and should, promote expanded access to affordable child care for everyone, no matter where you live or how much money you earn. The bill improves access to child care for those who need it most — low-income families — by making the existing child care tax credit refundable. Our plan helps all families tackle rising child care costs by increasing the value of the credit and ensuring that its buying power keeps up with inflation. It also increases the amount of pre-tax dollars that families can contribute to a child care flexible spending account and indexes the new cap to inflation.

For example, a family of four making less than $15,000 a year would gain access to $3,000 per year to help pay for child care costs. Right now, they don’t make enough money to claim the credit. A middle-class family of four making $55,000 a year would see their maximum benefit increase from $1,200 today to $2,100 under our bill. Anyone who has a flexible spending account through their employer would be able to use an additional $2,500 in tax-free dollars for child care.

Given the divisive, politically-charged environment in Congress, the PACE Act won’t give all policymakers exactly what they want. But principled compromise rarely does. Likewise, given the exorbitant cost of child care in many parts of the country, this legislation won’t solve the affordability crisis. But it’s a meaningful step toward more opportunity and more prosperity for millions of Americans.

Throughout our nation’s history, real and lasting change has been achieved through cooperation and bipartisanship. We may be in difficult, fractious political times, but America’s children shouldn’t suffer as a result.

Ultimately, our bill represents something that no other child care bill from this Congress offers: a bipartisan pathway to the president’s desk.

Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder represents Kansas’ 3rd District. Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy represents Florida’s 7th District.

To read the op-ed on The Kansas City Star website, click here.

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