Congress often gets accused of not getting things done.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case Monday.
So before he got to the policy discussion part of his visit to the YMCA of Reading and Berks County, he made sure to complete what he had begun earlier. Standing inside an auditorium with a group of adults waiting, he glued some googly eyes onto a paper raccoon.
It was an arts and crafts project he and the kids in the Pre-K Counts program had started before he sat down to read them the book “The Kissing Hand.”
He quipped that his wife always asks him what he got done during the day at work and that too often he has nothing to show her. Today, he would.
Casey split his visit Monday between the kids and adults. While the children got a chance to learn about a little raccoon’s first day of school, the adults were treated to a presentation on the senator’s Five Freedoms for America’s Children plan.
The Scranton Democrat has spent the last several years crafting the monumental plan designed to ensure every child has the support they need to succeed.
“This is the best attempt at a strategy to make investments for our children,” he told a group of childhood educators during a tour of the facility. “We know that these investments will have a profound impact on not only our children right now but it will lead to good outcomes down the road.”
That plan contains a wide range of proposals that include automatic Medicaid enrollment for children, permanent tax credits for families, big investments in affordable child care, expansion of universal school lunch and breakfast programs and more money to fight child abuse.
Those proposals are not cheap.
And Casey admits that this kind of transformational plan will most likely cost about $2 trillion to fully implement. But he believes these proposals are worth the cost and can be paid for mostly by making some key changes to the existing tax policy.
Casey said that for far too long leaders in Washington have created a government that works for corporate interests to the detriment of the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
“The super wealthy and major corporations have benefited from a rigged tax code over the last 40 years,” he said. “It’s about time we make investments in families. In the end, if we are going to move forward as a country we have to invest in our young people and pass policies that help lower the cost of raising a child.”
And the time to start that, he said, is right now.
In the coming weeks Congress will be debating a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that would advance several proposals outlined in Casey’s ambitious plan.
That includes adopting a $450 billion plan that could improve child care nationwide by easing the financial burden of child care on parents, offering higher wages to caregivers and ensuring all children ages 3 and 4 can enroll in free prekindergarten.
Shelley Eppihimer, the director of early education at the YMCA, said those investments are always appreciated, but the need is particularly dire now as child care organizations struggle to recover from the ongoing COVID pandemic and its impact on working families.
She specifically spoke about the critical staffing shortage within the child care system.
“Now more than ever, in order to continue to offer quality care for all children, we need qualified staff to help children learn, grow and thrive,” she said.
Kim Johnson, president of the local YMCA branch, told the senator that teachers at the center are underpaid for their skills and education. She added that most families in Reading cannot shoulder the true cost of high-quality child care.
“In order to maintain our well-qualified staff, we need substantially higher reimbursement from the state for our subsidized children,” she said, adding that more than 850 child care providers in Pennsylvania have closed their doors since March 2020 as a result of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.
Casey promised Johnson that he will do everything in his power to ensure that children across the commonwealth have access to affordable and quality child care programs.
However, he said, there is more to his plan than education. The plan identifies five basic freedoms that Casey believes our society must guarantee to our nation’s children:
Freedom to be healthy: This policy would provide automatic Medicaid eligibility from birth through age 18.
Freedom to learn: This policy would increase annual investments of $7 billion to expand affordable child care and early learning programs and $18 billion to ensure Head Start can cover all eligible 3- and 4-year-old children.
Freedom from hunger: This policy would enhance automatic certification of more children for school meal programs; expand universal school lunch and breakfast and increase retroactive reimbursement of school meals for eligible children who were not initially certified for school meals.
Freedom to be safe from harm: This policy would spend $5 billion over 10 years for child abuse prevention and treatment, specifically by providing additional resources to state to improve child protective services and by expanding investments in grants for community-based child abuse prevention.
Freedom to be economically secure: This policy would create saving accounts seeded annually with $500 for children in families earning less than $100,000 to be used later in pursuit of a post-secondary education, home ownership or a business enterprise. It would also make the expanded Child Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit permanent.
Source: Berkshire mont