The Biden administration released its FY24 budget proposal last week, revealing a policy agenda that covers a wide range of investments, including healthcare affordability and efficacy, violence prevention, clean energy jobs, and support for global allies.
Among the long list of priorities, two may catch the eyes of working parents: an expansion of access to affordable early child care, and paid family and medical leave.
“We strongly applaud the components in [the budget] relating to child care, but also paid family medical leave,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising, a family policy advocacy group, told HR Dive. “It is the strongest budget proposal on paid family and medical leave and child care in our country’s history.”
According to the budget fact sheet released by the White House, Biden’s child care proposal would enable states to increase affordable child care options for more than 16 million children and lower costs for high-quality care. It would also fund a federal-state partnership to provide universal, free preschool — first to 4-year-olds, then eventually to 3-year-olds, per a more detailed version of the budget.
In addition, the budget proposes establishing a national, comprehensive paid family and medical leave program that would provide up to 12 weeks of leave — much like the current Family and Medical Leave Act, except paid. Beyond elements like childbirth and illness, the Biden administration suggested the program also time for bereavement and seeking safety in cases of domestic abuse.
The policies proposed may be sweeping, but political winds are likely to tamp down any major changes. The New York Times noted the $6.8 trillion proposal “is widely considered to be dead on arrival with Republicans, who control the House.” Seeming to reaffirm that assessment, on the day of its release, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the proposal “unserious.”
President Biden just delivered his budget to Congress, and it is completely unserious.
He proposes trillions in new taxes that you and your family will pay directly or through higher costs.
Mr. President: Washington has a spending problem, NOT a revenue problem.
— Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) March 9, 2023
The president’s proposal serves as a starting point in what is likely to be a series of back-and-forth discussions and plans before the final budget is agreed upon. The 2023 fiscal year was funded by a series of continuing resolutions, followed by an omnibus spending bill, which passed in late December. The $1.7 trillion bill fell far short of the president’s initial $5.8 trillion proposal.
Still, advocates like MomsRising see reason to hope for an affordable solution on child care. Rowe-Finkbeiner pointed to federal advances for working parents in recent months, including Congress passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act. Both gained bipartisan support and were included in the omnibus spending bill.
“Those policies have been fought for for decades,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said. “And the fact that they all passed at the end of 2022 shows that momentum is growing.”
Recently, paid family and medical leave policy got a boost when the Bipartisan Policy Center formed a task force involving members of both political parties to work toward a legislative solution. Leave experts who spoke with HR Dive expressed pessimism about the likelihood of federal policy passing, however, saying that policy is more likely to continue to grow at the state level.
The lack of affordable and accessible child care is widely considered to be an economic hardship for U.S. workers and businesses, costing billions in productivity, earnings and revenue. It also has been blamed for workers missing out on upskilling opportunities and for problems with retention, especially of women.
Employers have adopted several ways of addressing working parents’ needs through their benefit offerings, with many providing paid parental leave, remote or flexible work arrangements, or child care stipend or pre-tax spending accounts. Some have even opened their own on-site day care programs or invited children into the office.