Why Clinton is pledging a 10 percent income cap on families' child care

In a speech in Kentucky on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said her plan would bolster existing state and federal subsidies and increase wages for child care workers.

John Sommers II/Reuters
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd during a campaign rally in Louisville, Ky., on May 10, 2016. Mrs. Clinton pledged that she would cap child-care expenses at 10 percent of families' incomes if elected in November.

Hillary Clinton said families should not have to pay more than 10 percent of their income in child care during a speech in Kentucky on Tuesday, citing the burden faced by many working families.

"It just doesn't make sense," Mrs. Clinton said while visiting a social services center in Lexington, referencing the cost of quality care. "It's the most important job that any of us can do, and we're making it really hard and really expensive."

She previously addressed women's work in the "informal economy," including caring for relatives and children, during a speech at Georgetown University in 2014, but Tuesday's proposal provides a more expansive look at her plan to tackle what many advocates say is a crippling burden for working families.

The benefits would be offered to families on a "sliding scale" based on need, but Clinton didn't provide an estimate of its cost. Ahead of Kentucky's primary on May 17, she said a family in the state where both parents earn minimum wage spends about 20 percent of their income on child care.

For single parents earning the minimum wage, that expense rises to 40 percent she said, while chastising Republican rival Donald Trump for encouraging a "race to the bottom" in terms of services for families, The Washington Post reports.

The plan may not be wholly unexpected: Some of its details also resemble a proposal introduced last year by the liberal Center for American Progress, which has close ties with the Clinton campaign, the New Republic's Adam Peck notes.

Child care costs can vary widely depending on where people live, a report released in October by the liberal Economic Policy Institute found.  According to the report, monthly child-care costs for a family with one 4-year old child range from $344 in rural South Carolina to $1,472 in Washington, D.C.

Overall, in 10 metropolitan areas across the country, child-care costs for an infant and a 4-year-old make up between 20 percent and 31 percent of a family's median income. Meeting these costs is particularly difficult for workers making minimum wage, the report found.

At a town hall event in Iowa in November, Mr. Trump said in-house child care at companies could be accomplished "very easily."

In response to a question about his plans to provide affordable child care to workers and particularly working mothers, he said, "It's not expensive for a company to do it."

"You need one person or two people, and you need some blocks and you need some swings and some toys. You know, surely, it's not expensive. It's not an expensive thing. I do it all over, and I get great people because of it…,” he said, noting that in-house care was offered at several of his companies.

But Clinton contrasted her plan on Tuesday with several statements Trump made earlier in the campaign, including a comment in November that wages were "too high" – though he has also said otherwise. She also noted his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"I think with somebody like Donald Trump, you would see a race to the bottom across our country, with working families paying the price," Clinton said. "And I don't think that's a risk we can afford."

Clinton also pledged to bolster wages for child-care workers through an initiative that directs funding into state programs aimed at improving compensation for workers in the field. The effort would also expand home visiting services to pregnant women and families with young children.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I) of Vermont, who has committed to staying in the race, has also tackled the issue, calling the lack of a child-care system "a disaster."

In 2011, he introduced a bill that to provide children between six weeks and kindergarten with "access to a full-time, developmentally appropriate early care and education program." He has said that he would introduce a federal child care program and expand parental leave if elected.

Exactly how Clinton's program would work is still unclear. The proposed plan would combine "substantial new investments" in federal subsidies for lower-income families and tax breaks for middle class families in order to ensure that costs never rose above 10 percent, Ann O'Leary, a Clinton campaign policy advisor told the Post.

In Kentucky, Clinton said existing child-care subsidy programs at the state level, such as one in the state, and another at the federal level could also be expanded.

"We already have a system," she told reporters on Tuesday. "It's just not kept up with the times. It hasn't kept up with the cost."

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