Use Tax Code To Help More Families

This post was written by Mark K. Shriver and Congressman Mike Kelly, R-PA, and was originally published in the Erie Times-News on May 4, 2017.

Although our nation may feel politically divided, there is one issue on which we can all come together and agree: increasing access to high-quality early childhood education, including affordable child care.

In America today, fewer than one in three children have a full-time, stay-at-home parent. Almost one-quarter of children under the age of 5 are in organized child care arrangements. For these families, the average cost of center-based child care is at least $12,000 per year, according to Child Care Aware.

For infant care, the cost is even higher. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 33 states and Washington, D.C., a family will pay more annually for infant care than for full-time, in-state public college tuition. For many families that want to provide their children with quality care to create a strong foundation for future success, it’s simply unaffordable.

High-quality early learning and care is one of the most effective ways to help kids escape poverty and ensure equal opportunity for all. It leads to higher graduation and employment rates, and it helps build a more prepared workforce. Though we come from opposite sides of the political aisle, we agree that helping families afford child care or early education programs should be a bipartisan goal and is a smart investment in the future of America.

While the federal tax code has some provisions that help families afford early child care, more can be done to assist low-income families with little to no income tax liability, for whom existing tax credits are of little help. Some of these parents are left with a debilitating choice: having to either leave the workforce, or place their children in low-quality child care.

Earlier this year, the Early Childhood Education Action Tank, a diverse coalition of children’s advocacy groups, businesses and financial institutions convened by Save the Children Action Network, released a menu of options for tax reform that would help address the two greatest barriers to early childhood education: cost and lack of access to quality programs.

One of the Action Tank’s recommendations is expanding tax credits and deductions for early childhood education. This includes reforming the Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), an employer-sponsored flexible spending program for up to $2,500 annually ($5,000 for married couples) to employees who pay for dependent care. In this program, employees are allowed to deduct dependent care expenses from their paycheck on a pretax basis, helping parents save money while ensuring their children are able to make the most out of their early years.

Last year, we worked together to introduce the Working Families Relief Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bipartisan legislation would make DCAP stronger by increasing the maximum amount employees can exclude from income to $10,500, allowing a tax credit for small employer DCAP startup costs, and providing a tax credit to employers who match employees’ contributions by up to $1,000. These improvements would make the program more beneficial to families, while also incentivizing more employers to offer access.

There are many innovative ideas around which federal lawmakers can come together to make sure all kids have a strong start in life and working parents who want to stay in the workforce are able to do so. As we move past tax day, we hope all Americans will voice their support for using tax reform to help children access early learning programs and have a fairer opportunity to succeed as they grow.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Butler Republican, represents the 3rd Congressional District of Pennsylvania. Mark K. Shriver is president of Save the Children Action Network.

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