The House of Representatives passed its version of the Build Back Better legislation late last week. Two of the sections in the bill are related to universal pre-k and child care subsidies. Popular coverage of these sections suggests that, once they are passed by the senate and signed by the president, these programs will become available to families across the country. But this isn’t true.
In order for either of these programs to actually be set up, each state will have to pass its own pre-k and child care legislation, not only to accept the federal funds, but also to fund the state-level cost-sharing required by the legislation and to set up the various state agencies to implement the plans.
This means that the programs must be approved, not just by the house, senate, and president, but also by each state’s lower house, upper house, and governor. The table below outlines which party controls these three veto points in every state.
|District of Columbia
Overall, only 14 states have unified Democratic control. For the other 37 states, the only way that the pre-k and child care plans will be implemented is if they pass at least one Republican-controlled veto point.
There are many reasons to believe that state-level Republicans will not go along with these two programs:
- Republicans have a track record of not participating in programs like this, most recently with Medicaid expansion and the extension of pandemic unemployment benefits earlier this year.
- Republicans generally oppose social spending increases.
- Republicans generally oppose assisting Democratic presidents.
- The programs put a thumb on the scale against stay-at-home parents.
- The programs put a thumb on the scale against church-based providers.
- The child care program will increase prices for unsubsidized users.
- The programs are temporary and only provide partial federal support.
- The Republicans have recently adopted a schools-focused electoral strategy based on the idea that Democrats are using the schools to push left-wing viewpoints on race and gender.
It’s possible that even some of the 14 Democrat-controlled states fail to pass the necessary state-level legislation, e.g. because they are wary of completely overhauling the state’s pre-k and child care systems for six years of partial federal funding (point 7 above).
So far, Democrats in Congress really do not seem to be taking this seriously and the advocates that populate the nonprofit world downplay the problem every time anyone brings it up. Nobody knows the future of course, but it seems utterly delusional to not see state non-participation as a massive threat to these two programs.
Thankfully, there is an easy way to avoid all of these state-level veto points. The federal government does not need the states to implement these programs. It can implement them directly, either for the entire country or only in states that choose not to enact the necessary state-level legislation. If Democrats are serious about actually providing these benefits to families across the country, they need to amend the legislation right now to provide for a direct federal role.