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Casey: Subsidies must support struggling parents

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Scranton, right, talks with local parents about their concern with the cost of child care during a roundtable at the River Valley Regional YMCA in Williamsport on Friday. To the left of Casey is River Valley Regional YMCA CEO Chad Eberhart.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, listened to struggling mothers and child care providers Friday tell stories at the YMCA in Williamsport describing how much child care cuts into their budgets.

Trena Paxton said she and her husband, a gas industry worker, are doing all they can to cover their bills.

The couple’s gross income of just over $900 every two weeks disqualifies them from food stamps and welfare. Their rent is $875, not including utilities, she told Casey, who has been taking notes at each stop he makes across the state.

But the cost of private care is still steep.

The cost of child care has increased by 25 percent over the past decade, creating significant financial strain for middle-class families, Casey said.

In fact, the average cost of full-time, center-based day care is $11,560 for an infant and $8,712 for a 4-year-old, Casey said.

Most two-parent families are paying as much as 12 to 25 percent of their income on child care, he said.

Single parent families, meanwhile, are spending up to 46 percent of their income on infant and toddler care, he said.

“We’ve got to get the cost down,” Casey said.

Two bills before the Legislature may be part of the answer, he added.

Casey is crossing the state promoting a bill aimed at helping her and other working parents.

Casey and a handful of his fellow Senate Democrats have introduced one bill that would cap the amount Paxton and other parents in her situation spend on child care.

Those making 150 percent of their state’s median income would be asked to spend no more than 7 percent of their personal income on child care.

In Pennsylvania, families earning as much as $114,000 a year would be eligible, and the child care co-pay would continue to decrease for families making less.

Moreover, families that earn 75 percent of their state’s median income or less would pay nothing.

Casey framed the proposal as a boost for young learners and a financial reprieve for families.

“We’re not doing enough at the federal level on early learning and to reduce costs of child care and invest in children to help them learn more now and earn more as adults,” Casey said.

For another mother, who told Casey she receives subsidized child care, working overtime has meant the threat of losing it.

The mothers and child care providers speaking to Casey said they felt penalized for working harder.

Casey said the amount going to child care means fewer discretionary dollars can be spent, which is depressing and not good for the nation’s economy.

“We have to find the right balance,” Casey said, adding, “of making more and paying more because paying more can be crushing.”

Casey derided those opposed to such bills.

The government can find $2 trillion for multi-national corporations and provide the 1 percent obscene tax cuts, he said. Lowering child care costs is a national challenge that affects the gross domestic product and the nation’s security, he said.

Casey said the legislation also includes wage compensation adjustments for those working in child care.

As such, he heard from a man working as elementary teacher and making $42,000 a year.

When the man said he left the district, for reasons of not believing in the public school system, he looked for work in pre-school education. “They paid $18,000 a year,” he said.

Across the various cities in Pennsylvania, Casey says he has heard from parents in the same or worse situations.

“We have got to decrease child care fees and increase child care workforce compensation,” Casey said.

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