Amy Gretchyn is a librarian and a hard-working mother of two girls. Her husband works full-time, too. I met Amy a few months ago at Kids by the Bunch in Glen Cove, New York, as she dropped off her daughters. She told me that, like many other middle-class families, they struggled to find an affordable option for child care that would accommodate both of their work schedules and not break the bank. It's not easy these days. Middle-class families are increasingly facing tighter budgets paired with rising costs. It's the wrong combination.
As I travel around my district, stories like the Gretchyns' are not uncommon. Many of my constituents tell me about the struggles they've faced when figuring out how to balance a career -- and a much-needed income -- with raising children. Or they talk about deciding whether it was financially worth it for them to return to work versus staying home with their kids.
The problem is that our government isn't making this burden any lighter for us. Instead of supporting policies that make it easier for families like the Gretchyns, the Republican-led House is choosing to give subsidies to big oil companies to the tune of $4 billion a year and are asking middle-class families and seniors to be the first to sacrifice to balance our budget.
Meanwhile, in many countries around the world, high-quality, publically-financed or subsidized child care is simply the norm. In France, for example, families can choose between a tax subsidy for at-home childcare workers or inexpensive municipal day care. By age 3, all children can enroll in universal, free preschool. Perhaps this system can explain why more than 80 percent of French women are in the workforce, as opposed to just under 60 percent in the U.S.
While I'm not suggesting it's feasible to even consider adopting France's system, there are small steps we can take. That's why, a few weeks ago, I introduced legislation that would put more money in the pockets of middle-class families paying for childcare.
Current law allows for as much as a 35 percent tax credit for childcare costs up to $3,000 (or $6,000 for two or more children) for children under age 13 whose parents work or go to school. However, families with incomes greater than $43,000 can only receive a 20 percent credit. This is unfair to many areas in our country like Long Island, where I represent, and where living costs are high and families making more than $43,000 are still solidly middle class.
My legislation, the Middle Class Dependent Care Fairness Act, would remove this unfair disparity so all families can access the 35 percent tax credit, nearly doubling the credit for middle-class families like the Gretchyns.
It's time for government to start working for middle-class families -- not big oil companies. Childcare is a good place to start. I encourage Congress to buck the recent trend of gridlock and actually take a look at my legislation. I think this is one policy that we all could agree on.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.