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WASHINGTON — Certain low-income parents would keep their right to use a federally-subsidized voucher to send their pre-teen children to a Catholic day care center under legislation the House approved Monday night. The parents use the vouchers either to work or participate in a job- or education-related program.
Passage of the Child Care and Development Block Grant came after congressional negotiators announced on Friday they had reached an agreement. Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, hailed news of the accord.
“This is wonderful news and a testament to what can be achieved when we put the needs of parents and children first,” Archbishop Lucas said in a press release Monday. “This legislative agreement also appropriately reaffirms the importance and pre-eminence of the child care certificates as the bedrock parental choice component of the program and acknowledges the critical role that Catholic and other faith-based providers play in this program.”
Brother Robert Bimonte, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, said the agreement would keep parents in charge of choosing the best day care provider for them.
“The success of the CCDBG program and the flexibility it provides to low-income families to choose the child care program which best fits their needs is a reminder that empowering parents not only supports them in their role as primary educators of their children but also provides them with the assistance necessary to find employment and support their families,” Brother Bimonte said in a joint statement.
Parents can be eligible to receive the child care subsidy if they earn less than 85 percent of their state’s median income, although some states put the threshold as low as 37 percent, according to a Congressional Research Service report in 2012. Child care funding is not an entitlement for individuals under federal law.
Children must be younger than 13 and living with their parents. The number of children who receive the child care subsidies is unclear. A House Republican fact sheet that accompanied the legislation said 1.5 million receive the voucher while the CRS study in 2012 said 1.7 million do.
The child care development and block grant was authorized to receive $5.2 billion in 2012. Of the amount, $2.9 billion was mandatory and $2.3 billion discretionary spending. The program was a key part of the welfare reform law of 1996.
Lobbyists that represent the Bishops Conference and NCEA fought successfully for an amendment that clarifies the privileged role of parents in the federal program. In February, the Council for American Private Education released a memo about its proposal: the federal program “does not favor or promote the use of grants or contracts” instead of vouchers.
“Some early childhood centers are operated by the government, and some are operated by faith-based and other independent providers,” the memo said. “In a free society, it is essential that parents be able to choose from an array of options. Without options, there is no choice, and without choice, there is no freedom.”
The Senate is expected to approve the legislation, which will then go to the desk of President Obama.
Mark Stricherz is based in Washington. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.