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Senate to vote on child-care vouchers

Regulations will keep low-income kids safer

Legislation being considered by the U.S. Senate would impose stricter standards on child-care providers who accept federally subsidized customers.

The Senate is expected to vote this afternoon on reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant program through fiscal year 2020. The program issues vouchers to low-income parents to pay for child care while at work, school or job training.

“The whole goal is to help working families with the cost of providing child care,” Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

Donnelly said the new legislation “strengthens program quality” and “safeguards the health and safety of our children.”

The bill would allow subsidies to be used only at state-licensed child-care providers who submit to criminal background checks and pre-licensing and yearly inspections.

The legislation also would require states to spend between 9 percent and 13 percent of block grant funds on activities that improve the quality of child care, including training providers. The current figure is 4 percent.

Donnelly noted that 31 children have died at Indiana child-care centers since 2009, with 21 of those deaths occurring at unlicensed or illegal centers. The numbers, first reported Sunday by the Indianapolis Star, included a 2-month-old boy who died Feb. 26 at an apparently unlicensed home child-care center operated by Amy Auld in Fort Wayne.

“If somebody chooses not to participate in the program, obviously the legislation would not touch upon them, but I know that in Indianapolis they are working on this issue as well,” Donnelly said.

He was referring to a bill advancing at the Indiana General Assembly that would increase regulations for church and home child-care centers.

The federal legislation would require states to explain how license-exempt providers that receive subsidies do not endanger the health, safety or development of children they care for.

Ann Murtlow, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Central Indiana, joined Donnelly in the conference call. Murtlow said the Child Care and Development Block Grant “would ensure that the public dollars that are already being spent are spent more wisely and in a way that promotes the educational development of our most vulnerable children.”

The block grant was established in 1990 but has not been updated since 1996.

Matt Lahr, press secretary for Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said Coats voted for the 1996 reauthorization.

“Depending on what happens in the amendment process, he will likely support it again,” Lahr said in an email.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would cost $16.8 billion through fiscal 2020. Donnelly said Indiana would receive $114 million.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act has bipartisan support. Its sponsor and co-sponsors include three Democrats and three Republicans.

The Senate on Wednesday approved amendments to the legislation, including increasing child care funds for American Indian tribes and requiring states to develop disaster-response plans for care providers.