Senate bill would expand child care, boost safety

FILE - Evelyn Steadman, 7-months old, sleeps on the chest of her grandmother, Kathleen Jones, at the baby's home in Crete, Ill. on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Jones, 52, is a longtime volunteer who cuddles newborn babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital. In August 2013 after Evelyn was born with brain damage due to a virus, she ended up in Comer's neonatal intensive care unit and, in addition to many family members, ended up being cuddled by volunteers also. Research shows that cuddling helps calm the babies, many who are born prematurely or who have serious health issues, and aids in their early development. The family says they have little doubt the extra cuddling helped Evelyn. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

WASHINGTON (AP/WAVY) — The Senate has passed legislation to require child care providers who care for children from low-income families through a government voucher program to undergo criminal background checks, know first aid and CPR and get other training.

The bipartisan legislation, which passed by a 97-1 vote, would also require annual state inspections of child care centers. At issue is the $5 billion-plus spent annually to help provide care to 1.6 million children, many of whom are in single-parent households. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, cast the “no” vote.

Supporters of the legislation, which is designed to expand access to federally subsidized child care and improve its quality, say such care is a vital means to allow parents of modest way of staying in the workforce.

“For working families who live below the poverty line, the cost of childcare can eat up more than 30 percent of their monthly income,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “For single parents, if you have only one income, it is an even bigger burden.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, who represents Virginia, released the following statement after the Senate passed the bill Thursday:

Today, we put partisanship aside to pass legislation that will improve the daily lives of Virginians by ensuring families have access to quality, affordable childcare. This bill reauthorizes the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which aids more than 21,000 children in Virginia each month, and makes improvements that help ease the burden on parents’ pocketbooks. I’m pleased we came together to support high-quality, low-cost childcare that benefits children during the most crucial years of development.

The bill, called the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, would require providers to meet a range of health and safety standards, including first aid, CPR and prevention of child abuse and sudden infant death syndrome. The bill also would require annual inspections of licensed programs and require that day-care centers be inspected before they are opened. Nine states, including California, Massachusetts and Minnesota, do not require annual inspections.

The program sends block grants to states to help them provide vouchers to help low-income parents pay for child care. Costs have risen sharply since the program was consolidated under the 1996 welfare reform law.

The low-profile measure came to the Senate floor after the chamber has experienced much partisanship and rancor in recent years and has gotten away from routine floor debates and an open legislative process in which lawmakers are free to offer amendments. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that “smaller bills like this one … generate good feelings on both sides of the aisle. They show younger members that we really can legislate; they haven’t seen too much of that because there hasn’t been too much. And it helps break down the mistrust.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said other bipartisan candidates for floor action include legislation backed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lee, to ease federal mandatory minimum sentence laws for non-violent drug offenses and legislation by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to boost energy efficiency.

Thursday’s measure would add flexibility so that smaller fluctuations in income don’t disqualify parents from receiving subsidies and makes it easier for homeless families to qualify even though they may have lost access to some required documents. It is also aimed at making sure day care workers are trained in CPR, fire prevention, and sanitation practices and ways to prevent sudden infant death syndrome. It also encourages better nutrition practices and more exercise at child care centers.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant was first signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to assist working families with the cost of childcare. The program, which serves approximately 1.6 million children in the U.S. each month, has not been reauthorized since 1996.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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