And, as HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn points out, “this is one of those rare moments when you can glimpse a lie in its infancy, before it’s taken hold.” Top Republicans are starting to tell the lie, but memes about it aren’t yet flooding Facebook.
It’s not just the language of the bill that says child care money from Build Back Better could go to religious programs, as Cohn shows.
“Religious providers are absolutely eligible, and we’re excited for them to be part of this,” Sen. Patty Murray’s communications director told HuffPost. University of Virginia law professor Micah Schwartzman confirmed to HuffPost that it “is, in effect, a federally funded voucher program to be administered by state governments. The program explicitly includes religious providers.”
And here’s the director of a church program: “The whole idea is for it to be a system that’s open to everybody, so it’s mixed delivery, whether it’s faith-based or [secular] private child care, or Head Start, or public school preschool.”
Faith-based programs would therefore benefit from the added funding. Under the plan, many families would get free child care, while families earning up to 250% of their states’ median incomes would pay no more than 7% of their income. That means lots of families would be able to afford to send their kids to good child care programs for the first time.
As of 2018, the average cost of center-based infant care in the U.S. was $1,230 per month. The Center for American Progress reported, that, “On average, a family making the state median income would have to spend 18% of their income to cover the cost of child care for an infant, and 13% for a toddler.” Build Back Better proposes to fix that major cost, and pay early childhood caregivers more. Currently, early childhood care providers, “more than nine in ten of whom are women and more than four in ten of whom are women of color,” a Biden administration fact sheet noted, “are among the most underpaid workers in the country and nearly half receive public income support programs. The typical child care worker earned $12.24 per hour in 2020—while receiving few, if any, benefits, leading to high turnover and lower quality of care.” That high turnover, and the resulting lower level of care have led to a crisis for the child care industry during the pandemic.
Improving that system improves things for the entire industry, and for the parents who need care for their young children.
It’s true that faith-based programs might have to comply with some new requirements. For instance, livable wages for teachers. Additionally, the universal pre-K component of the plan does phase in new requirements for lead teachers to have bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. But those requirements would apply equally to all programs.
So would anti-discrimination requirements, which—even with some loopholes allowing religious organizations to hire people exclusively of their religion for certain roles—might cause some religious providers to howl and file lawsuits. But that would be a minority of programs. Specifically, the ones that want to violate anti-discrimination policies.
Additionally, Cohn notes, according to the legislation, “eligible child care providers may not use funds for buildings or facilities that are used primarily for sectarian instruction or religious worship.” But “you can’t build a new church with public child care money” is miles away from Cotton’s “Democrats are ending decades-old, bipartisan protections for religious preschools and child care centers that will pressure facilities to choose between federal funding and their faith.”
Republicans are starting to build the framework of another culture war lie. Don’t believe it for a moment. But if Sen. Joe Manchin wants to demand, as one of his requirements for voting for Build Back Better, that religious child care centers have to be included in the funding, his fellow Democrats can absolutely say yes to that. They don’t even need to tell him that it was already in there—wouldn’t want to strain his brain too much.