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‘Build Back Better Act’ would exclude faith-based child care providers, say religious groups

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John Burger - published on 12/05/21 - updated on 12/06/21

Provisions for universal pre-K and childcare under legislation said to threaten families who want to put their children in sectarian schools.

Provisions for universal pre-K and childcare under President Biden’s Build Back Better Act will hurt large swaths of families who want to put their children in religious schools.

So says a coalition of religious organizations, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim, in a letter to Congress.

“Expanding affordable child care and pre-kindergarten is a worthy goal to help working families,” the coalition writes, in a letter to key senators. “However, the current child care and universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) provisions in the Build Back Better Act will suppress, if not exclude, the participation of many faith-based providers; and faith-based providers are what more than half of American families choose for child care.”

The letter comes as the Senate prepares to take up the bill, which is said to be central to Biden’s “domestic agenda.” The House of Representatives passed the bill November 19, 220 to 213. The legislation calls for $2.2 trillion in spending over the next decade to battle climate change, expand health care and shore up the nation’s social safety net.

No Republican House members voted in favor of it, and the bill apparently faces a tough act in the 50-50 Senate. The New York Times said that Senate Democrats must “navigate a tortuous budget process that is almost certain to reshape the measure and force it back to the House — if it passes at all.”

But the concern of religious groups that sent a letter to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) is a bipartisan one. 

The letter explains that although the BBBA does not preclude parents from selecting faith-based providers, the bill’s current provisions make it virtually impossible for many faith based providers to participate in the program by departing from current federal child care policy and attaching new compliance obligations that would interfere with providers’ protected rights under Title VII and Title IX regarding curricula or teaching, sex-specific programs (such as separate boys’ or girls’ schools or classes), and preferences for employing individuals who share the providers’ religious beliefs.  

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education, were signatories, along with Catholic Charities USA, the National Catholic Educational Association, and groups such as Agudath Israel of America, Council of Islamic Schools in North America, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church – North American Division. 

“The faith community has always affirmed that parents should choose the best environment for care and education of their children,” the letter says. “The current Build Back Better Act provisions would severely limit the options for parents, suffocate the mixed delivery system for child care and pre-kindergarten, and greatly restrict the number of providers available for a successful national program.” 

The coalition asks for urgent attention to address these concerns in order to ensure that faith-based providers are able to participate in the BBBA’s child care and UPK programs. 

BBBA would provide universal pre-K for all children ages 3 and 4 and subsidized child care for many families. The bill also extends an expanded tax credit for parents through 2022. 

Also in the bill as passed by the House are four weeks of paid family and medical leave.

There are also various health provisions that aim at expanding healthcare access for children, make insurance more affordable for working-age adults and improve Medicare benefits for disabled and older Americans. ​​

The health of the planet is also included, with $555 billion of spending on climate programs. That includes about $320 billion in tax incentives for producers and purchasers of wind, solar and nuclear power.

To pay for all those provisions, the plan calls for nearly $2 trillion in tax increases on corporations and the very wealthy.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said Tuesday that his goal is to have the bill pass before Christmas.

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