By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget plan would boost federal funding for childcare and early childhood education by billions of dollars, ensuring free preschool for all of the country’s 4 million 4-year-olds, the White House said.
The proposal, which Biden will deliver to Congress on Thursday, revisits several items included in Biden’s 2023 budget proposal that were removed during negotiations with Congress. Prospects for passage could be even harder this year, given Republicans’ slim majority in the House of Representatives.
The White House argues that lack of access to affordable childcare is a key factor depressing women’s participation in the workforce. It cited a Boston Consulting Group forecast that U.S. economic output could drop by $290 billion a year beginning in 2030 if critical care shortages are not addressed.
One recent poll showed that 55% of households experience difficulty finding childcare, with 21% citing challenges related specifically to cost, the White House said.
Administration officials said Biden would continue to push for higher spending on the nation’s “care economy,” but could also take executive action to push forward his agenda, such as last week’s Commerce Department announcement that firms seeking funds from a $52 billion U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and research program will have to share excess profits and explain how they plan to provide affordable childcare.
Biden’s budget is expected to include an expanded child tax credit that he has pushed for years, and other measures that would help working families, administration officials said.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, welcomed the proposed increases in spending and Biden’s renewed push on the child tax credit, saying she would work to make the tax credit permanent.
“Together, these programs will lower costs for working families and provide needed financial stability to the working and middle class,” DeLauro said in a statement.
Biden’s 2024 proposal includes $22.1 billion for existing early care and education programs, up 10.5% from the 2023 enacted level, including $9 billion for federal block grants.
The White House said the higher level of funding, totaling some $400 billion over 10 years, would increase childcare options for 16 million more young children while lowering costs for parents.
The proposal also funds a federal-state partnership that would provide high-quality, free preschool, expanding access to all 4-year-olds, a dramatic increase from the estimated 1.6 million children now in preschool programs.
It drops Biden’s previous request to fund universal preschool for 3-year-olds, choosing a more targeted approach this year, a White House official said.
The 2024 plan would boost funding for Head Start programs by more than 9% to $13.1 billion, with more than $500 million dedicated to boost pay for Head Start teachers and staff, the White House said. Higher federal funding for preschool would reach $200 billion over 10 years, it said.
The White House is betting that childcare programs, which are very popular with the public, could help boost Biden’s approval ratings. The president is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race this spring.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in WashingtonEditing by Matthew Lewis, Robert Birsel)