WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress sent President Barack Obama compromise legislation on Monday revamping the government's chief child care program for the first time in nearly two decades, including a requirement that federally subsidized providers conduct criminal background checks on their workers.
The Democratic-led Senate voted 88-1 to give final congressional approval to the measure, with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the only no vote, two months after the Republican-controlled House passed it. In each chamber, it was endorsed by leading members of both parties, making it a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation in a Congress dominated by partisan strife.
The bill compels states to conduct at least one inspection annually of daycare centers and to make sure workers are trained in first aid and other safety needs.
The measure would gradually increase the proportion of money from the program that states must spend to improve child care. It would also allow parents whose incomes rise above the program's limits to continue receiving child care assistance for at least a year. Currently, they can be disqualified within a month.
The $5.3 billion-a-year program provides grants to the states, which have had wide discretion to use the money to subsidize and improve child care for low-income families. Because federal and matching state funds have fallen short of cost increases recently, the number of children served has edged downward from nearly 1.8 million monthly in 2006 to an estimated 1.5 million in 2013, according to federal figures.
Under the program, parents receive vouchers to help pay daycare costs at a provider's home or at centers. Low-income parents who work, are enrolled in school or job training or who need protective services can use it for children under age 13.
The Child Care and Development Block Grant program was first enacted in 1990 under President George H.W. Bush and was last updated in 1996.
The bill was sponsored by Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said the senator opposed the bill because he wasn't allowed to offer an amendment that he said would curb fraud in child care programs.