The Utah Alliance for Better Child Care has endorsed a $2.5 billion federal child-care bill, saying the measure would better ensure affordable day care for low-income families than legislation offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Hatch is sponsor of the Child Care Services Improvement Act, which would provide $250 million for child care, and Utah would receive a share of about $4 million.However, the Act for Better Child Care Services sponsored by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., would offer $2.5 billion, with Utah in line for about $23 million.

The Utah Alliance for Better Child Care, a coalition of 17 groups, includes the Intermountain Pediatric Society, Utah State AFL-CIO, Utah Psychological Association and the League of Women Voters.

"ABC was developed over a long period of time and is the bill that promises to do the most," said Carol Blackwell, a parent affiliated with the alliance.

"The detrimental part of Hatch's bill is that home day-care providers can receive funding for up to two years before they go in for licensing," she said. "Doing that would be to chip away at what Utah has preserved."

Two years ago, the Legislature nearly did away with licensing for home-based day care, but an outpouring of public opposition stopped the action.

"Eliminating licensing opens the possibility that more children will go into substandard care," said Kris Hale of the Child Care Connection, a day-care referral agency. "It also increases the number of providers that we don't know about."

Hatch's proposal would establish a $250 million block grant administered by the states to provide seed money for communities, local organizations, small businesses and educational institutions to develop various child-care programs.

Recipients must meet state licensing or accreditation, but there are no federal licensing requirements.

Dodd's bill would set minimum federal standards that all centers would have to meet.

"It is designed so the states plan, administer and supervise their own program with federal backup," Hale said. "Utah has achieved most of the minimal standards in the bill already."

The standards include maximum child-to-staff ratios, maximum group size, training for providers, health and safety requirements and parental involvement at all centers.

A comparison of the two bills by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees found the ABC bill uses 75 percent of its funding to enable low- to moderate-income families to purchase child care.

The Hatch bill lists subsidies as just one of seven equal activities that would include assistance for providers to establish and operate centers, after-school programs and sick care, the study said.

"Because day care is in a crisis situation, even $2.5 billion is a drop in the bucket," Hale said. "The total cost of ABC wouldn't finance half of an aircraft carrier.

"The state doesn't have enough money to adequately supervise day-care centers now," she said. "We need money to put teeth in the regulations."

ABC would require quarterly inspection visits to day-care centers that are currently inspected annually, Hale said.

"We credit Sen. Hatch for supporting child care, but the legislation needs to go further," Blackwell said.

Utah has 240 licensed centers that care for about 16,000 children. An additional 1,600 licensed home day-care providers handle about 9,834 children.

Utah's population has 221,433 children under the age of six and nearly 40 percent of their mothers work, according to state Division of Family Services statistics. The same statistics show that 46 percent of mothers with children between 6 and 17 are working.

Nationally, more than 9 million children under 6 and more than 24 million between the ages of 6 and 17 have working mothers, Hatch has said.