Summer Meals Act of 2015

Children enjoy a nutritious summer meal served at the Sandston Woods Apartment Complex in Henrico County, VA. Photo by USDA.gov.

Children enjoy a nutritious summer meal served at the Sandston Woods Apartment Complex in Henrico County, VA. Photo by USDA.gov.

By Jordan Soto, Summer Policy Intern

Earlier this week, the sponsors of the “Summer Meals Act of 2015″ (HR 1728/ S. 613) held a briefing on Capitol Hill.

This legislation is a bipartisan and bicameral measure focused on the improvement and expansion of Summer Nutrition Programs. The Senate version is sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and the House version (H.R. 1728) is sponsored by Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-WA).

Summer Nutrition Programs help provide children from low-income families, relying on low cost or free meals during the school year with access to healthy and nutritious meals during summer months as well. This legislation is essential to children’s learning, development and health. These programs are implemented in many ways such as child care facilities.

The Summer Meals Act of 2015 focuses on improving Summer Nutrition Programs in four major ways. First, it proposes to change the eligibility standard. Currently, a site must have 50% of the children within the area eligible for low-cost or free meals in order to qualify for Summer Nutrition Programs. Under this proposal this standard would be lowered, making the requirement only 40% of children. The administrative process will be simplified enabling sponsors to provide children with meals year-round without having to apply separately to operate during the summer. At this time, agencies are providing children with only two meals per day but this proposal would increase that to three meals per day. Finally, it proposes making transportation grants available to sites enabling them to reach children in under served areas.

Not only do these programs provide children with the healthy meals they need but they also create an arena for continuous learning and help prevent the loss of learning over the summer. Further, these sites create an environment that will guide at-risk youth on a path toward success and help to pull them out of the cycle of poverty.

For more information on this bill, click here.

President to Announce New Initiatives to Make Child Care More Affordable in Tonight’s State of the Union

Tonight, January 20, 2015 at 9PM Eastern, President Barack Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address.  President Obama’s State of the Union address will focus on middle-class economics and provide some new proposals to help families offset the burden of child care costs.

Some of the proposals included in the upcoming State of the Union have been released prior to the speech, including a proposal around the child care tax credit.  From the President’s fact sheet on the proposal:

“Making Child Care, Education, and Retirement Tax Benefits Work for Middle-Class Families

Simplifying and Expanding Child Care Tax Benefits

With the cost of infant and toddler care rivaling the cost of college in many states, the average child care tax benefit of $550 falls well short of what is needed to provide meaningful help to working families. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and child care flexible spending accounts are also unnecessarily complex, often requiring significant paperwork and advanced planning for families to receive the full benefits.

The President’s tax proposal would streamline child care tax benefits and triple the maximum child care credit for middle class families with young children, increasing it to $3,000 per child. The President’s child care tax proposals would benefit 5.1 million families, helping them cover child care costs for 6.7 million children(including 3.5 million children under 5), through the following reforms:

  • Triple the maximum Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) for families with children under 5, increasing it to $3,000 per child. Families with young children face the highest child care costs. Under the President’s proposal, they could claim a 50 percent credit for up to $6,000 of expenses per child under 5 – covering up to half the cost of child care for preschool age children.
  • Make the full credit available to most middle-class families. Under current law, almost no families qualify for the maximum CDCTC. The President’s proposal would make the maximum credit – for young children, older children, and elderly or disabled dependents – available to families with incomes up to $120,000, meaning that most middle-class families could easily determine how much help they can get.
  • Eliminate complex child care flexible spending accounts and reinvest the savings in the improved CDCTC.The President’s proposal would replace the current system of complex and duplicative incentives with one generous and simple child care tax benefit. 

The President’s child care tax proposal will complement major new investments in the President’s Budget to improve child care quality, access, and affordability for working families.”

The full fact sheet can be found here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/17/fact-sheet-simpler-fairer-tax-code-responsibly-invests-middle-class-fami

Guest Blog: An Intern Bids Farewell

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By: Amanda Cappelletti

As summer draws to end, so does my health policy internship with Child Care Aware of America. Reflecting on the past ten weeks, it is hard to believe how much I have learned and how much I have done. I went from stopping to think “Child Care and Development Block Grant” before saying “CCDBG” to it rolling off my tongue. I attended webinars and subcommittee calls, in the office, and got out of the office for briefings on the Hill.

                The first few days I was at the office, my head was buried in books and various publications and presentations about the child care sphere. My third day, I attended a CCDBG briefing on the in Hill in the morning and sat through a webinar in the afternoon. It did not take long for my calendar to fill up with subcommittee calls, webinars and briefings:  attend this, take notes on that. I quickly became well-versed with the current legal state of early care and education as well as becoming well-versed with the health initiatives and policies.

                One of the first subcommittee calls I sat in on was Farm to Preschool (F2P). I remember someone saying that family child care homes and small centers have a hard time participating in the program because they simply lacked the buying power to make it economical or to entice farmers to work with them. This one comment inspired my research for the summer. I was determined to figure out how to use already existing infrastructure to make F2P economical for family child care homes and small centers, and enticing for farmers to work with them. Now, I am writing a policy paper suggesting how Pennsylvania might leverage its resources so that F2P can be a success.

                My research connected me with professionals, all across the nation (and some who teach at Temple University, which I am currently attending!), dedicated to improving health and wellness policies in early care and education. They provided guidance and materials to help with my research. Hopefully, those have also become life long career connections.

                My research also led me to other webinars and briefings that I was encouraged to attend. There are two that stand out for me. The first is a TEDMED talk, Great Challenges:  A Candid Conversation About Childhood Obesity. This particular talk stands out because Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), spoke and answered questions. RWJF is a leading contributor to researching childhood obesity, and supporting health and wellness initiatives in early care and education. This talk also stood out because Don Schwarz, the former Health Commissioner and Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity in Philadelphia, spoke. Under his commission, childhood obesity in the city, declined nearly 5 percent! Not only did I feel a sense of pride, being from that area of Pennsylvania, it gave me hope; if Philadelphia can do it, so can other towns, cities, and states!

                I was also able to attend a briefing at the Senate Building, Improving Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Early Care and Education:  Commitments, Challenges and Accomplishments, my exact topic of choice! At this event, two individuals running food and nutrition policies in child care centers spoke about how they have succeeded in implementing healthy menus. Two other experts, Debbie Chang of Nemours and Dr. William Dietz from George Washington University, spoke about the prevalence of obesity and the need for children to eat healthy meals and snacks. This talk reminded me, that although there is hope, there is still a long way to go.

                And it is a long way back to Philadelphia. It is hard to believe I am returning to classes in the upcoming weeks. However, thanks to my time at Child Care Aware of America, I return to classes, remembering why I decided to go back to school. I return refueled with passion for children’s health and wellness policies.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves Funding Increase for Early Childhood Programs

On Tuesday, June 10th, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Related Agencies held a markup on the Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill for the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill.

The subcommittee, chaired by retiring Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) approved the fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations bill that provides $156,773,000,000 in base discretionary budget authority, the same as the FY 2014 level. In addition, the bill includes $1,484,000,000 in cap adjustment funding, permitted under the law, a $560,000,000 increase, to prevent waste, fraud, abuse and improper payments in the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

Harkin heralded the investment in early childhood programs the bill sought to make, stating “This is the bill that invests in America and allows us to respond to the changing needs of our country, all within a difficult budget.  I am particularly encouraged that the bill directs funding to investments in high-quality early childhood care and education, which have been proven to have positive, lasting effects on children and families.”

The spending bill provides a combined increase of $348,327,000 for key early childhood care and education programs; Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Preschool Development Grants, and IDEA Grants for Infants and Families. Together, they address the entire age range of birth through age five.

The main highlights of the bill include:

Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG)—The Committee recommendation includes $2,458,246,000, a $100,000,000 increase, for the CCDBG

Head Start— The Committee recommendation includes $8,742,845,000, a $145,000,000 increase, for Head Start. 

Preschool Development GrantsThe Committee recommends $350,000,000, an increase of $100,000,000, to continue support for Preschool Development Grants. 

Early Childhood Statewide Longitudinal Data SystemsThe Committee recommends $34,539,000, the same amount as the current year, for statewide longitudinal data systems.

The full committee will meet later this week, with House action yet to take place on the funding levels for the same programs.

Oklahoma CCR&R Director to Testify at House Committee Hearing on CCDBG Reauthorization

The House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Representative John Kline (R-MN) recently announced that the Committee will hold a hearing on CCDBG Reauthorization after the Senate approved legislation by a vote of 96-2 to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program.

Chairman Kline released this statement following the passage of the Senate bill:

“Senate passage of legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant is a step forward in the shared goal of strengthening the nation’s existing network of early childhood services. The bill includes several commonsense provisions that will help empower parents and enhance coordination between CCDBG and other federal early care programs, such as Head Start. The committee will convene a hearing on March 25, 2014 to examine House priorities for CCDBG, and I look forward to a productive discussion as we work to find common ground and complete the reauthorization of this important program.”

During the hearing, the Committee members will hear from 4 panelists, including Paula Koos, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association, Inc.

The hearing will take place on March 25th, 2014 at 10am Eastern. 

To learn more about the hearing, click here.

To watch a live webcast of the hearing, click here.

Obama Administration Releases FY2015 Budget with Commitment to Early Learning

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This week, the Obama administration released its $3 trillion-plus 2015 budget, calling again for a significant commitment to high quality, early childhood opportunities for young children.  This is the sixth budget from President Obama and the second time he has put early childhood high among his priorities.

In addition to calling upon Congress to enact his historic Preschool proposal, the President’s budget would increase Head Start by $270 million, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships by $150 million, Preschool Development grants by $500 million, and CCDBG would be increased by $57 million, serving 74,000 more children than in 2014.  Also, and importantly, $200 million of the Child Care and Development Fund would be dedicated to helping states raise the bar on quality by developing better health and safety standards, improving and increasing provider training, and improving parental access to information.

The 2015 budget proposal also recognizes the significant cost barrier for many families seeking access to high quality child care in their communities.  The President’s budget includes an expansion of the child and dependent care tax credit targeted at families with children under five years old, providing an average tax cut of $600 to at least 1.7 million families.

While the President’s budget is not expected to be acted upon this year, it was important for the White House to set forth their visionary goals and statement of our values and priorities as a Nation.   These goals will inform members of congress and especially appropriators as they begin their work for the next fiscal year’s funding.  The fact that in this challenging fiscal environment, early childhood was one of the few “winners” in the budget should not be ignored.  The President, and indeed many in Congress, recognize that our economic future depends on the next generation and that we either invest now, or pay the consequences later.

Our nation simply cannot afford to continue the present course where parents can’t find quality programs for their children, or when they do they can’t afford them. We cannot continue down the present path where fewer than one-third of 4-year olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  If America wants to lead, we need to begin to lead with our young by making the up-front investments known to be critical for lifelong success.

Stephanie Monroe, Senior Policy Advisor with Child Care Aware of America

Bi-Partisan Budget Deal Passes Out of House, Moves to Senate

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Last night, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a two-year bipartisan budget deal 332-94, reducing the likelihood of another government shutdown and setting the stage for Senate action, expected next week.  The agreement, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sets discretionary spending for two years and replaces a second round of sequester cuts slated to take effect in January.

Non-defense discretionary spending, which has already been reduced to $470 billion, will be adjusted back upwards, to $491.7 billion in 2014 and then $492.4 in 2015 – essentially to the same levels as were in place in 2008.  The agreement gives an important nod to several of our key priorities by creating three “deficit- neutral reserve funds”: one for Pre-Kindergarten, one for Child Care and one for Home Visiting.  These “reserve funds” allow the authorizing committees of the House and Senate to approve funding for CCDBG, home visiting, and the new Strong Start for America’s Children legislation so long as those programs are deficit neutral, in other words, paid for thru cuts in other programs or revenues generated in some way.

This is an important and positive step for children and families, lessening the impact of the draconian sequestration cuts but a long way from securing the commitment needed to create a system of high quality early care and education.

House Democrats who, all but 32, supported the bill, expressed concern that the budget deal did not extend unemployment benefits for over one million families whose benefits are expected to run out before the end of the year.  All in all, for many this was a “hold your nose and vote yes vote”.  Neither side can claim 100 percent victory, neither side can claim 100 percent defeat.  It represents a true Washington compromise which was, until recently, common practice but becoming increasingly elusive due to partisan wrangling.

If the Senate approves the Budget as expected next week, all eyes will turn to the appropriations committees where, by January 15th the funding will need to be approved and actually allocated to various subcommittees and specific programs such as CCDBG, Head Start, and Home Visiting.  Be assured that Child Care Aware will stay on top of these issues, letting you know when it will be important to raise your voice to ensure attention to and support for our priorities.

 

 

Child Care Aware of America Travels to the Golden State

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The staff on-site from Child Care Aware® of America included Director of Policy Michelle Noth McCready, Senior Government Affairs Associate Nick Vucic, and Communications and Public Affairs Specialist Sara Miller.

After introductions by the advocates, displaying the wide-range of backgrounds and professions present, the Child Care Aware® of America staff dove right into the complex topic of Advocacy vs. Lobbying.   Following a short break, the crew returned to discuss what’s going on in Washington, DC with the budget and other federal initiatives pending.  In this time, Nick covered not only what had occurred with the Government Shutdown and the resulting agreement, but also what the current status was for CCDBG reauthorization, the Proposed Regulatory Changes to CCDF, and the President’s Early Learning Initiative.

1462980_863178810739_11969867_nDuring the next portion of the training the advocates took out their magic wands and talked about what they could do if they had the capabilities to accomplish anything in the early childhood space, as well as what barriers were currently in their path to achieving those goals.  When each group finished a brief presentation of their findings, Sara started the next part of the training, Engaging Today’s Generation, which covers how to use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogs to expand your organizations reach for advocacy.

Once Sara finished up her presentation and fielded questions from the advocates around social media, Michelle started the discussion around building an action day, giving the advocates present hypothetical situations and challenging them to come up with ways to get the attention of their policymakers.

The training ended with the advocates in the room going around and providing their bright ideas, takeaways, next steps, and potential partnerships.  Click here to read about our advocacy trips to New JerseyFlorida, Montana, and Nevada.

Dissecting the Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013

The bi-partisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013, introduced today by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Congressman George Miller (D-CA), and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY), at an event on Capitol Hill sends a signal that the national conversation is just beginning around the importance of early learning. Senator Harkin, Rep. Miller, and Rep. Hanna joined Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Save the Children Ambassador actress Jennifer Garner and D.C. preschool children in a replica of an early learning classroom, and took part in activities and games that accentuate the difference quality early learning activities that begin at birth can make in a child’s development.

The legislation is comprised of four sections; Prekindergarten Access, Early Learning Quality Partnerships, Child Care, MIECHV Program.

To help understand how the legislation would impact different areas of the early childhood landscape, we’ll dive deeper into each section and its implications.
Prekindergarten Access

The legislation would fund preschool for 4-year old children from families earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), and encourage states to spend their own funds to support preschool for young children with family incomes above that income level.

Some of the highlights include:

  • • Requiring alignment of early learning standards with the State’s K-12 system that are “developmentally-appropriate, and culturally and linguistically appropriate and address all the domains of school-readiness.”
  • • Mixed-delivery eligibility for grants to ensure that states have the maximum flexibility in determining how the preschool grants could be administered to best fit their communities.
  • Requiring establishment of a State Early Childhood Education and Care Council, where it doesn’t currently exist
  • Improving coordination and participation with other federally-funded early childhood programs including, CCDBG, IDEA part C, and MIECHV.
  • Implementing performance measures and targets designed to increase school readiness, quality programs available, and children in those programs.
  • 10-year Match requirement from states, transitioning from 10% in the first year, to an equal share of the federal amount in the program’s 10th year.
  • Preschool Development Grants – For states not currently eligible for the formulaic preschool grants (described above), states could receive grants to help increase their ability to build the infrastructure and workforce and instill quality measures necessary to qualify for the federal formulaic prekindergarten grants in future years.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with developing a process for converting Head Start programs (that currently serve 4-year olds) to Early Head Start programs serving 3-year olds and infants/toddlers.

Early Learning Quality Partnerships

The legislation would fund the establishment and/or expansion of partnerships between Early Head Start programs and child care providers to help raise the quality of “coordinated, comprehensive services for infants and toddlers and children through age 3.”

Some of the highlights include:

  • $1.4 billion in competitive grants ($1,430,376,000 to be exact) to Early Head Start programs to partner with center-based or family child care programs, particularly those that receive federal support through CCDBG and agree to meet Early Head Start program performance standards.
  • Priority of grants given to applicants that create “strong” alignment with MIECHV, CCDBG, and state-funded programs to develop comprehensive birth-to-school services for families.
  • Early Head Start programs receiving grants under this initiative would enter into a “contractual relationship” with child care providers to:
    • Expand the child care providers programs through financial support
    • Provide training, technical assistance, and support to provider to meet higher quality measures
    • Blend funds with CCDBG to develop “high-quality child care, for a full-day” that meets the Early Head Start standards.

Child Care

The legislation would fund the establishment of a reserve fund to encourage activities to improve the quality of child care nationwide. Additionally, the bill would seek to implement further measures to improve continuity of care for families receiving federal child care assistance.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Creation of a $100 million reserve fund that would set-aside funds to go towards competitive grants to states to undertake activities designed to the improve the quality of child care through projects, including, but not limited to:
    • Supporting training, education, and other professional development activities for child care staff
    • Providing technical assistance to help providers come into compliance with licensing measures
    • Providing incentives for the child care workforce to seek further credentialing and/or degree attainment
    • Helping programs meeting health and safety standards
    • Helping programs develop and implement nutrition, physical activity, and/or obesity prevention programs.
  • Priority for grants to high-poverty areas, defined as “areas with significant concentrations of poverty and unemployment and that lack access to high-quality child care.”
  • Establishment/Implementation/Expansion of pilot projects to support the needs of low-income families.

Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program

The legislation would provide a “Sense of the Senate” and a “Sense of the House of the Representatives” that the MIECHV program has shown significant progress in the improving the development of children from low-income families. A “Sense of the Congress (or of each chamber)” is simply the formal expression of opinion about subjects of current national interest. In other words, while the rest of the legislation would develop, implement, or expand existing programs, this section would clarify the belief of the respective chambers that the MIECHV program has seen significant success in its work and that the chambers believe that Congress should continue to provide the resources necessary for the program.

Nevada On-Site Advocacy Trainings

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3Recently, Child Care Aware of America had the great pleasure of traversing to Nevada for not one, but two advocacy trainings.  Starting off with a training in Reno, hosted by the Children’s Cabinet and finishing with a training in Las Vegas, hosted at United Way of Southern Nevada, Child Care Aware® of America’s policy staff had a great opportunity to meet and work with a lot of great early childhood advocates in Nevada.

Nick Vucic, Government Affairs Associate, and Sara Miller, Communications and Public Affairs Specialist, led the trainings.

The trainings started off with a round of icebreakers and a great introduction into the history of early childhood policy and status of programs in Nevada.  Next, Nick kicked off with an overview of advocacy vs. lobbying, then transitioned into updates from the federal level. The topics included CCDBG Reuathorization, the Proposed Rule from HHS, the Government Shutdown, Sequester, and more.

image4After a short break, participants were separated into groups, at which point they discussed goals and barriers in Nevada, as well as at the federal level.  Following presentation by all the groups in both Reno and Las Vegas, Sara started her presentation by pointing out resources and ways that the organization is here to help members in the states and parent engagement, which was a great way to transition into a discussion about social media.

image1Sara went over many social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and how to make all forms of social media help advocacy efforts.  Many advocates in both Reno and Las Vegas were chomping at the bit to learn more, as many had used social media for personal use, but not necessarily for their organizations and advocacy efforts.

Both trainings ended with the advocates in the room going around and providing their bright ideas, takeaways, next steps, and potential partnerships.  Click here to read about our advocacy trips to New Jersey, Florida, and Montana.