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Senate Earmark Battle Clobbers Funding For Child Care

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Senate Democrats abandoned an omnibus spending bill last week because Republicans said it was too filled with earmarks. Its demise will mean the end of elevated federal funding for child care programs for working families.

"If we lose this money, it's just a disaster for kids and families," said Helen Blank of the National Women's Law Center.

The 2009 stimulus bill provided an additional $2 billion each for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which helps working parents pay for daycare, and for the Head Start program for childrens' health and school readiness. The extra money has allowed the programs to catch a greater percentage of eligible children.

The omnibus bill provided $681 million for child care and a $841 million for Head Start -- roughly the amount of money needed just to prevent the programs from dropping the additional families served thanks to the stimulus bill, according to the programs' advocates.

"These increases would have helped many, although not all, of the nearly 300,000 children who benefited from child care assistance and Head Start and Early Head Start starting in 2009 as a result of economic recovery funding," Blank said.

"This is devastating news for these children, their families, and the economy," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said in a statement to HuffPost. "Without child care, it will be difficult for parents to hold down steady jobs. And by shrinking access to programs like Head start, we're putting our most vulnerable children at risk of school failure, which will harm their job prospects and our economy in the long run."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lamented the situation on the Senate floor last Thursday.

"300,000 children in America, as a result of our not moving forward, are going to be treated much differently," Reid said. "The Head Start Program has been proven to be something that is vital to the country, and 300,000 children will not be eligible for Head Start because of this."

Congress has failed to renew the stimulus boost for a host of social programs this year. Over the summer, lawmakers in the House killed a health care subsidy for laid off workers, and the Senate yoinked $25 per week from every unemployment check. This fall saw the end of a welfare-to-work program that created some 250,00 jobs. Congress also made two cuts to future funding for food stamps, setting up the first-ever benefit reduction from one month to the next. Now the child care and Head Start money is headed for that heap.

"We know that the recession took families that were middle class and put them into the position where they needed help with child care," said Danielle Ewen, director of child care and early education at the Center for Law and Social Policy. "They can't go to work if they don't have safe place to put their kids. If families can't go to work, that means we can't get out of the recession."

There are no plans to include additional funding for the programs in upcoming legislation.

"I frankly don't know what happened last week except there are certain members of Congress trading short term political gain for the long term future of this country."