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Sen. Casey calls for billions in childcare investments

Sen. Casey’s visits the Dunham Children’s Learning Center at Penn College on Wednesday. Linda A. Reichert, director of the Dunham Children’s Learning Center, left, and Sen. Casey, and Mayor Derek Slaughter, right, visit with the children as they work on an activity science experiment with small ice blocks. PHOTO PROVIDED  

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Scranton believes all children have the right to be healthy and economically secure, as well as to learn, be safe and free from hunger.

On Wednesday, the lawmaker stopped at Pennsylvania College of Technology to push his Five Freedoms for America’s Children plan for improving the lives of kids.

Unfortunately, he said, there is no strategic plan to address the issue as exists for many other of the nation’s priorities such as growing the economy.

“If we invest in our kids all of these other priorities are successful,” he said.

The lives of children were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting their education, creating stress levels, and pushing more kids into poverty.

Casey, who took time to tour the college’s Dunham Learning Center, visited with pre-school children and staff before discussing his plan.

He is calling for an additional investment of $7 billion for affordable child care and early learning programs, an $18 billion annual increase to cover Head Start, and a permanent expansion of the Child Dependent Care Tax Credit to help families cover child care costs.

Casey conceded that paying for the programs poses a big hurdle.

“We need to use the tax code to align with our priorities,” he said. “That’s just not the case right now.”

Casey said he certainly supports raising taxes on corporations rather than policies that call for giveaways to big business.

“I think things can get done as part of the Budget Reconciliation Bill,” he said.

Jen DeBell, executive director, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, noted that 79 percent of child care centers are experiencing a staffing shortage.

“Making a substantial investment in the early care and education sector similar to what is included in the American Families and Jobs Plans as well as Sen. Casey’s Five Freedoms for America’s Children agenda would be a big step in the right direction,” she said. “Child care programs need additional recurring funding to address affordability, quality and infrastructure. The infrastructure they lack most significantly right now is staff.”

“Child care is an impediment to getting back to work,” Casey said.

Casey included some of the alarming statistics for children in his 48-page booklet, “Five Freedoms for America’s Children.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, childhood poverty worsened in 2017 for the first time since the Great Depression.

In addition, one out of every five children is poor with the youngest — infants and toddlers — the most vulnerable and at-risk for poverty or near poverty.

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