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Senators: Bipartisan legislation on quality child care is common sense

Editor's Note: (Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, is a US Senator from Minnesota. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, is a US Senator from Alaska. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors; view more opinion articles on CNN.)

(CNN) Lack of access to affordable, quality child care is one of the biggest concerns that we hear from our constituents back home in Minnesota and Alaska.

Across the country many parents are making untenable decisions just to get their children quality care. Some of them have had to leave the workforce because they couldn't afford care for their children while they worked. Others are skimping on food and other essentials in order to pay for quality care. And then there are others who can afford child care but can't find a licensed child care facility.

Amy Klobuchar
Dan Sullivan

While the two of us may have principled differences in Congress, we agree that access to quality, affordable child care is a problem that affects far too many families. If we are dedicated to securing a better future for the next generation, we have to come together to do better. That's why we've introduced the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act -- legislation that will work to bring the cost of child care down and provide more child care centers in areas that need them the most.

Today, more than half of Americans reside in areas classified as "child care deserts," according to a 2018 report released by the Center for American Progress. These are communities that have more than three children for every licensed child care slot. And while the amount and size of deserts vary from state to state, a little over one-fifth of the country lives in a state where 60% or more of the neighborhoods constitute child care deserts, according to the same report. Alaska and Minnesota are certainly among those states dotted with child care deserts.

In Alaska, according to a 2019 report from Child Care Aware of America, there are nearly 40,000 children under the age of six with parents in the labor force, yet there are only about 850 licensed center-based and family child care homes in the state, which provide just 23,851 licensed child care slots. That means that more than 15,000 kids, or one in four children in Alaska, are left without access to licensed child care when their parent or parents go to work.

In Minnesota, the burden placed on families due to a lack of access to child care disproportionally impacts certain populations. Approximately one-third of Hispanic/Latino families, 27% of rural families, and 36% of low-income families reside in areas that lack enough access to licensed child care providers, according to a report by the Center for American Progress.

Currently, according to the report, about one in four people live in areas that do not have access to licensed care.

And nationally, according to a 2015 survey conducted by The Washington Post, "more than three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers had passed up work opportunities, switched jobs, or quit" their job due to a lack of paid leave or child care. A 2016 study conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that roughly two-thirds of parents said they had "only one" or "just a few" realistic child care options.

The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act works to address part of this problem by providing competitive grants to states to support the education, training, or retention of the child care workforce. These grants could also be used by states to help build, renovate, or expand child care facilities in areas with child care shortages.

Child care deserts are harming our children today and limiting America's potential for future economic growth. Millions of working families pay more for child care than they do for their mortgage, college tuition, or even food on an annual basis. Many more do not have any access to licensed care at all. The bipartisan Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act will help families to have more options available to them when planning for their careers and their children. We encourage our colleagues to join us in addressing this child care supply issue that is far too costly to ignore.

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