He Said; She Said: Candidates Promote Competing Visions for Child Care

by Michelle Horowitz

For the first time in many years, both major political party candidates for President have acknowledged child care as an important national policy issue. Indeed, both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have campaigned on the issue, promising that child care would be a priority. But that’s where the agreement ends; as they diverge over what should be done and for whom.

The Trump plan includes:

  1. For families with children ages birth to 13, costs of childcare would be 100 percent tax deductible
  2. For low-income families, the Trump plan offers a “boost” in the Earned Income Tax Credit
  3. Tax-free child care savings accounts available to any family with children. For low-income families, the government will provide a 50 percent match up to $500 per year.
  4. Creating a new, dynamic market for family-based and community-based child care
  5. Revising the tax credit for employers to provide child care in the workplace so that it provides a greater incentive
  6. Six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers through unemployment insurance

The Trump plan relies heavily on tax deductions to help families recoup child care costs, benefiting families with higher incomes and higher effective tax rates more than middle- and low-income households. Low-income families could qualify for the enhanced EITC; however, given that EITC benefits are only available after taxes are filed, the impact may vary.

The GOP plan focuses on services for mothers, without specific policies for fathers and children. By making child care more affordable, families may be able to place children in the kind of high quality early learning environments that can provide academic, social and emotional benefits. However, research suggests reason to be pessimistic in this regard. In all, each of the policies proposed by the Trump plan will be expensive. The American Action Forum estimates the cost to the federal government to range from $182.4B to $680B, with the most expensive proposal being the child care tax deductions.

The Clinton child care policies include:

  1. Universal preschool for every 4-year-old over the next decade
  2. Increasing child care subsidies so no family has to pay more than 10 percent of its income
  3. Raising salaries for child care workers
  4. Doubling investments in Early Head Start, serving low-income infants and toddlers
  5. Expanding access to evidence-based home visiting programs
  6. Awarding scholarships up to $1,500 per year to help student parents afford child care and increasing access to high-quality child care on college campuses

The Clinton plan favors tax credits over deductions, which targets assistance to low- and middle -income families. Overall, the Clinton plan is broader in scope than the Trump plan as it addresses both affordability and access for families seeking child care. The Clinton plan in total is estimated to cost $200B, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

No matter who is elected November 8th, those concerned with the well-being of families and children should continue focusing on these issues and hold the new administration accountable for promises made.

Investments should not only benefit working parents but also our nation’s children and the country as a whole. Our youngest citizens should be a priority for our next President.

To continue bringing attention to early learning issues before the election, join a Save the Children Action Network webinar at 1 pm ET Wed Nov. 2 and check out NAEYC’s Early Ed for President.

Michelle Horowitz is a research assistant at the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes. Michelle’s work includes field work for the New Jersey Pre-K study, social media outreach, and administrative support on CEELO and NIEER projects.

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