In 2021, Congressional Democrats pushed a child care bill that would have given states money to set up child care subsidies for their residents. Under the rules of the program, kids would only be eligible for the program if their parents were engaged in one of the following activities:
- Full-time or part-time employment.
- Job search activities.
- Job training.
- Work-limiting health treatment.
- Activities to prevent child abuse, neglect, or family violence.
- Work or training activities related to SNAP or TANF requirements.
- Taking leave under the FMLA or a paid leave program.
At the time, the Congressional Research Service concluded that this activity test would render around 1 in 20 children ineligible for benefits. I criticized the activity test for the impact it would have on many of the nation’s most vulnerable kids and their families.
Earlier this week, David Dayen of The American Prospect reported that the new child care bill, which is supposed to be introduced later this week, has made some changes to the activity test. Under the new rules, kids with parents who fail to meet the activity test will still be eligible for benefits provided they meet one of the following requirements:
- They are homeless.
- They have a disability.
- They are in foster or kinship care.
- They are in child protective services.
- Their family receives SNAP, WIC, or TANF.
- Their guardian is elderly.
- Their parent is employed by a child care provider.
On its face, this seems like a good thing. The old activity test would have ended up excluding many of these kids from benefits and the new one now has a list of exceptions for them. It looks like the individuals responsible for the bill read the criticisms I and others made and tried to address them by making one-off carveouts for the various sympathetic examples of kids who will get dinged by the activity test.
But with these seven exceptions now added to the activity test, it actually becomes even harder to understand why they are insisting on having an activity test at all. Recall from above that the initial activity test excluded about 5 percent of kids. With the exceptions now added to it, the activity test will exclude perhaps 1 percent of kids.
Why are we making 100 percent of kids prove that their parents meet an activity test in order to exclude 1 percent of them? Why are we making all of the nation’s parents hand over paystubs, medical records, SNAP certifications, and jobseeking information to day care providers in order to administer an eligibility test that, if it works as intended, will exclude almost nobody?
Indeed, this new activity test will almost certainly exclude more people who are eligible for the program but who can’t figure out how to submit the proper paperwork than people who actually fail to satisfy the activity test. Is that what Patty Murray and Bobby Scott are trying to achieve here? A paperwork nightmare for parents, day care centers, and local welfare agencies that pushes a bunch of eligible kids out of child care? If not, then they should change the bill to get rid of the activity test.
What’s so strange about all of this is that, in this very same piece of legislation, there is a plan to provide money for states to set up a program of pre-k subsidies. And that part of the legislation has no activity test. So it is not as if lawmakers simply cannot fathom the idea of providing care for kids below the age of 5 without applying an activity test or don’t know how to draft a bill that does that. It’s just that they have decided for some bizarre reason that parents should be subjected to an absolutely ridiculous and pointless activity test but only until their kids hit age 3.
There is still time to change the bill before it is formally introduced and I hope lawmakers wisen up a bit before they put out yet another garbage child care proposal.