Last night, during his joint address to Congress, President Trump promised to “work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable.” This isn’t a huge surprise: for the past several months, Ivanka Trump has been meeting with Republican representatives on Capitol Hill about a child care proposal. When Ivanka—alongside her father—introduced the plan back in September 2016, she asserted that “safe, affordable, high-quality child care should not be the luxury of a fortunate few.”
But the reality is, Trump’s proposal is essentially a tax break for the wealthy disguised as a child care plan.
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There is a real child care crisis in the United States. The current system doesn’t work for anyone: Parents are shelling out more for child care than they’ll need to pay for in-state college tuition, and providers are still closing their doors due to lack of funding. Low-income and middle class families need help affording quality child care, but the Trumps have something different in mind.
Here are five reasons why Trump’s child care plan doesn’t cut it:
1. It provides the biggest benefit to wealthy people
The Trump child care plan was written by Ivanka, for Ivanka. It’s centered around a tax deduction, which would let families earning up to $500,000 per year deduct their child care costs from their taxable income up to the average cost of child care in the state.
Unlike a refundable tax credit, which would give money to anyone who is eligible, a tax deduction lowers peoples’ taxable income and increases their tax refund at the end of the year. That benefits high-earners more than lower and middle-income families—under Trump’s plan, 70 percent of benefits would go to families earning at least $100,000.
2. It doesn’t help people when they actually need it
Under Trump’s plan, families would need to pay upfront for child care each week or month, and then wait until tax season to get a small deduction. Most families don’t have that kind of liquid income—a parent working full time at a minimum wage job would have to spend anywhere from 62.9 percent of their income (if they live in South Dakota) to 183.5 percent of their income (if they live in Washington D.C.) to pay for child care for an infant and a four year old.
If Trump was serious about helping middle class Americans, his proposal would provide support for families throughout the year, when they need it. For example, proposals for a High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit—where a family would contribute between 2 and 12 percent of its income on a sliding scale—would advance money to families on a monthly basis so that they would never need to pay full price out of pocket.
3. It won’t improve child care quality
Providing high-quality child care is expensive. Around 60 percent of funding for child care providers comes directly from parents, so providers depend largely on tuition to cover the cost of staff salaries, classroom materials, and building maintenance. So, high-quality providers tend to have higher tuition prices. That creates a gap in the type of care kids ultimately get—children whose parents have money get high-quality care, and kids whose parents don’t settle for less.
Trump’s plan doesn’t address the fact that access to high-quality early childhood education depends on a family’s income. That perpetuates the achievement gap that plagues students later on. Without access to high-quality early childhood education, low-income students and children of color start kindergarten behind their peers in math and reading. They struggle to make up the difference later on.
4. It won’t create more child care options
Many parents have trouble even finding a licensed child care provider in their community. A recent study found that across eight states, 42 percent of children live in child care deserts where child care supply does not meet demand. The problem is particularly pronounced in rural areas, where the majority of children—55 percent—live in child care deserts.
Trump’s plan doesn’t create incentives for new providers to enter the child care market, which would increase the availability of child care for families. A meager tax deduction is not enough to build a child care infrastructure, especially in rural areas where there is the greatest need for child care.
5. It doesn’t support the early childhood workforce
Trump’s plan does not even mention the 2 million—mostly female—early childhood educators that care for the nation’s youngest children every day. The median annual salary for child care workers is just $20,320, which is less than the median for animal caretakers and parking lot attendants. Almost half of child care workers rely on some form of public assistance, and they often lack basic benefits like health insurance. That has consequences for the children in their care.
Early childhood is a critical period when children grow, learn, and develop rapidly. In order to thrive, children need careful attention from adults that make eye contact, engage in dialogue using age-appropriate language, and respond to their expressions of emotion. High levels of stress—like the kind caused by economic insecurity—interfere with an educator’s ability to give a child the meaningful attention that they require throughout the day.
Last night we heard President Trump say that he wants to help financially-strapped families, but families cannot work unless they have affordable child care. Trump’s child care proposal won’t meet most families’ needs—it’s little more than a tax windfall for wealthy people like him. If he understood the child care crisis that low-income and middle class families face each day, he’d put forward a complete plan that addresses child care affordability, quality, and access.