A bill designed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to include the best ideas from the myriad of child-care bills before Congress was introduced Tuesday in the House.
Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., introduced the Hatch-Johnson Child-Care Services Improvement Act in the House because the Senate has recessed for Easter. Hatch said the bill will be introduced there as soon as the Senate reconvenes."All the good ideas are in one bill," Hatch said of his "new and improved" proposal. "I believe this bill is the closest of any introduced so far to what will finally be passed by both houses and signed by the president."
Democrats would disagree. The bill does not force - as they insist - day-care providers who receive federal money to meet minimum federal quality standards. It also does not require parents to use money directly for day care.
Still, Democratic and Republican proposals have been moving closer recently - and Hatch said he hopes this bill will move Democrats even further in his direction.
Democrats have already generally supported Hatch's and President Bush's ideas to give low-income families tax credits to help pay for child care - even if one parent stays home. In return, Hatch has supported Democratic bills to provide direct assistance and oversight to day-care providers.
The new bill is estimated to cost $2.4 billion to $2.7 billion, if fully implemented. Hatch said it would cost $5 billion to fund a compromise of adopting both Republican-sponsored tax credits and Democratic-backed direct-assistance proposals.
"I'm not sure we can find $5 billion, but I do think we could find the $2.5 billion this bill would cost," he said.
The money could come, Hatch said, from reworking who is eligible for the $16 billion worth of programs already aimed at care of children. He said removing unnecessary assistance given to wealthy families could provide all or most of the $2.5 billion needed.
WHAT THE BILL DOES
-Gives a tax credit to low-income families to help pay for child care. Families would receive up to $2,000 - even if one parent stays home - and be able to buy day care from themselves or anyone they choose.
-Authorizes a "block grant" program that would give states and communities money to use as they choose to improve the availability and quality of child care.
-Provides tax credits for businesses establishing on-site or near-site day care for employees' children, and gives tax credits for programs to allow employees to work at home or vary shift schedules to care for children.
-Reforms child-care liability laws so day-care providers would be less exposed to lawsuits, which should help businesses better afford insurance to provide more child care for employees.
-Provides $100 million for the start-up of an insurance pool to help home-care providers obtain insurance.