As the 2016 election season kicks into high gear, a new nationwide advocacy campaign aims to amplify the need for more affordable child care and preschool.
The Stand with Families initiative, led by a coalition of labor, women's rights and other organizations, has created an online petition and is planning a series of events to draw attention and propose solutions to the nation's "child care crisis."
The average cost of full-time child care ranges between $3,000 and $17,000 per child per year, according to experts.
"[W]e're calling on all the candidates for President of the United States to make our children and families a top national priority by guaranteeing universal high-quality, affordable, accessible and flexible child care and pre-K education for all families, and by paying educators and providers of all types what they are worth," the petition reads.
The following groups are spearheading the Stand with Families initiative: the American Federation of Teachers, Center for American Progress, Center for Community Change Action, Center for Popular Democracy, Child Care Aware of America, Child Care and Early Learning Action Hub, Every Child Matters, Make It Work, MomsRising, National Women's Law Center, SEIU* and Young Invincibles.
The groups intend to hold community forums, protests and petition-gathering events around the country, including in Illinois, between now and the November 8 election.
"I'm an early childhood educator, and when I go to the polls I'll be looking for candidates that are speaking to the needs of child care providers, families, and kids," said Tamara Coleman, a Stand with Families supporter and a Head Start teacher's assistant in Kansas City. Coleman earns $10.33 an hour
"I love teaching kids and preparing our next generation, but low pay means I have to rely on my family to help buy groceries for my two kids," she added. "In this election, there's no more important issue for me than addressing the child care crisis. When child care costs as much as rent or college tuition, and child care providers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, something is deeply wrong."
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the major-party presidential candidates, have each issued child care proposals.
Clinton's child care plan largely targets low- and middle-income families, whereas Trump's would primarily help higher-income families, according to experts.
Clinton wants to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family's income. Her proposal calls for "significantly increasing the federal government's investment in child care subsidies and providing tax relief for the cost of child care to working families." Among other measures, Clinton wants to establish universal preschool for every 4-year-old and increase the wages of child care providers and early learning educators.
Trump's plan would let families deduct daycare costs for up to four children from their income taxes. The child care deduction would be available for couples making up to $500,000 and individuals making up to $250,000. The plan would extend to stay-at-home parents.
The Republican presidential nominee also wants to boost the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by up to $1,200 for parents who have no income tax liability because their incomes are too low. Another aspect of Trump's plan is the creation of new child care savings accounts, through which the government would "match half of the first $1,000 deposited per year" by low-income parents.
Trump has called for six weeks of guaranteed paid maternity leave for new mothers, while Clinton has proposed 12 weeks of mandatory paid family leave.
After reviewing Trump's child care plan earlier this month, the National Women's Law Center noted that "any proposal structured around tax deductions in this way will overwhelmingly benefit higher-income families while doing little for lower-income families who need the most assistance."
That's because low-income families who lack an income tax liability would have no tax deduction to claim. Additionally, a $1,200 boost in the EITC for low-income families would do little to offset the high costs of child care, the center said. Finally, experts doubt many low- and moderate-income families would seek one of Trump's child care savings accounts.
"Families who are already struggling to make ends meet are not likely to be able to put thousands of dollars into savings accounts to pay for future child care expenses," the center's analysis said.
As for the minor-party candidates, the Green Party's Jill Stein supports universal free child care, while the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson favors small government. The Libertarian Party's platform endorses a free-market education system and opposes all forms of government subsidies.
"The candidates are talking about child care because it's an issue that affects every working parent in this country, and they know they can't win without our votes," said Stand with Families supporter Elizabeth Hopkins, a working mother of two from Cincinnati. "But I'm calling on the candidates for president and all elected (officials) to do more than talk about making child care affordable and make a real commitment to addressing the crisis as soon as they take office."
*The SEIU Illinois council sponsors this website.