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Sen. Katie Britt on fixes to child care: ‘Parents back in the driver’s seat’

The U.S. Capitol Building. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Affordable and high-quality child care isn’t just an issue for individual families: It’s a workforce and jobs issue that Congress can and should take seriously, Sens. Katie Britt and Patty Murray said Wednesday.

Britt, a Republican from Alabama, and Murray, a Democrat from Washington, are often on opposite sides of the aisle on important issues. But in a virtual event hosted by and The Seattle Times, and joined by Lisa Hamilton, CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, each agreed to take the others’ proposals on how to tackle increasing costs of care, and gaps in coverage, seriously.

“When I think about experiences like my own or like my family members, or the constituents whose stories I hear, I know that doing nothing is not an option. And so we’ve got to figure out how to do something and certainly how to do it together,” Britt said.

How did we get to this point?

In 2023, the Annie E. Casey Foundation put out a report about the child care crisis. Alabama’s child care cost is about $7,500, which is affordable for many couples, but as much as a third of a single parent’s monthly income, according to the Kids Count Data Book.

And the cost of infant child care is more than in-state college tuition in 34 states, Hamilton said Wednesday.

“So if we’ve got families contributing north of 30% of their income to child care, that is the definition of unaffordable,” she said.

Child care is considered affordable if it costs households no more than 7% of their income, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2022, more than 1 in 10 young children had a parent who had to quit, turn down or drastically change a job in the previous year because of child care problems, according to recent reporting from, The Seattle Times and the national Education Reporting Collaborative.

Britt said the cost of child care across Alabama is simply unsustainable, and cited her own experience – like Murray – of being a young mom trying to figure out care.

“When I was in this situation, you know, about 14 years ago, looking for child care and the cost of it was astronomical then. I think about how much we were paying to send our two kids to daycare in Tuscaloosa and then Birmingham and how challenging it would have been to make ends meet had we not had a nest egg set aside,” Britt said.

“For those men and women who want to enter our workforce, we want to make sure that they have the opportunity to do that. And so whether it is cost or availability, it seems like we are failing on both sides,” Britt said.

For mothers like Adriane Burnett, a single mother of two children, child care costs upended her finances, leaving her without a car, behind on homeowner association payments and filing for bankruptcy.

Burnett gave up a $2 an hour promotion because she does not have available childcare to work the extra hours. Though, she still must work three jobs, seven days a week to afford the child care she does have.

Murray said the crisis needs to be treated like an infrastructure issue, with consistent support from the federal government.

“How did we get here? Because our nation has never seriously taken the issue of child care as an incredibly important foundation to our economy. So it has been a silent problem for many, many years. Parents just struggled with it. They either didn’t take a job or they left the job market or they had child care that wasn’t safe,” Murray said.

Murray said she believes tackling issues like affordability and access will help mothers return to and stay in the workforce.

In 2022, almost 85,000 Alabama families needed access to child care but had no affordable, quality options in their communities, according to the Women’s Foundation of Alabama.

In Jefferson County, Alabama infant and toddler child care cost an average of $10,662 per year in 2023. Jefferson County women’s median income was $27,952, with a median family income of $67,455.

As many as 19% of working parents in Alabama said they had had to miss work due to child care issues, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2021.

“Right now, our country is losing revenue, because we don’t have child care infrastructure.” Murray said.

Finding common ground, bipartisan solutions

Panelists cited changes made in Washington state and in Alabama, as well as suggestions for how other states and communities can address the crisis.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the “Working for Alabama” legislative package, which includes HB358, the child care tax credit bill that legislators say will help address both care gaps and the state’s low labor force participation rate.

“I certainly think that some of the issues Sens. Murray and Britt have raised around tax credits for individual families, whether that’s the earned income tax credit or the Child and Dependent Care Credit, those certainly go to help families cover the costs,” Hamilton said, also noting efforts to The ways that credits can incentivize employers to support their employees’ costs or to create on-site childcare centers, which we are seeing as well,” Hamilton said.

“Some of the more innovative things we’ve seen have been how to address the business model challenges of child care,” she added, describing efforts in local communities to address rent and wage costs.

“We’ve heard about a real estate investment trust, a REIT, that is purchasing facilities and making them available to proprietors and doing the upgrades to make them fit regulations, while also providing stable rents so they can continue to provide child care at a reasonable cost to families.”

Britt said that she hopes Alabama’s tax credits will help businesses and facilities to provide affordable child care to their workers. Britt said she also hopes new legislation will help mothers, small business and rural communities attain higher involvement in the workforce. Apprenticeship programs too, she said, might provide opportunities for people to begin working as they gain credentials that make it easier to operate high-quality and successful programs.

“We want to make sure not only that the workers are paid accordingly but also that we find a way to drive costs down for parents. So most definitely will certainly take a look at that and look forward to talking to Senator Murray about it,” Britt said.

“Putting parents back in the driver’s seat, creating a market that works. Thinking about our rural communities. A lot of times it’s easy to think about how some of the bigger businesses can take part in this but figuring out how we bring small businesses together…is really important.”

Since 2017, Murray has introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. She advocated for the legislation again Wednesday.

The act as written would provide grants to communities to build the child care facilities and increase accessibility. It would balance an effort toward a living wage for child care workers, while capping an effort to make families pay no more than 7% of their income on child care.

“I think we have the possibility to get it passed. We will need bipartisan support in the Senate,” Murray said.

Britt said she would take a look at the bill, but worries about making big-picture changes dependent on federal budget decisions.

Murray said she also hopes to pass legislation for veterans and active military service members to receive better, more affordable child care on bases and during medical appointments.

“I had visited troops and heard about child care and the challenges that our men and women in uniform are facing both at home and abroad and brought that to her,” Britt added, noting appreciation for Murray’s work on the issue.

“I am confident that there are many places when it comes to affordability and accessibility where we overlap and I am committed to figuring out how to move forward…so that we can see if we can navigate through that to ultimately achieve what we need to, which is a better childcare community, better opportunities, more resources for people who want to re-enter the workforce,” Britt said.

Why should you care about the child care crisis?

Panelists said that addressing the issue will improve workplaces and communities, whether or not individual voters have children.

“People walk up to me and say, ‘I don’t have kids. Why should I pay for this?’ My answer is pretty simple. Do you go to work every day? Do you have any income? Well, if you want your company to stay open, then you need workers there. And the less workers you have, the less productive you can be. And one of the biggest reasons we don’t have productivity today is because people can’t be in the workplace because they don’t have child care. So we will help lower costs for all Americans,” Murray said.

“If we can be more productive, we will have a better educated workforce that can support that worker regardless of whether they have children or not. When they retire, we will have a workforce that is more innovative and creative and entrepreneurial. If we can make sure that there is childcare for those workers to be at work, which helps every single American,” Murray said.


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