WASHINGTON, D.C. – After introducing the EMPOWER Act last month, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) is continuing his push to tackle poverty in Maine by introducing two pieces of legislation today that would help make it easier for people to find and keep jobs.
Senator King today introduced the Access to Childcare Expansion (ACE) Act and the Leveling Access to Demonstrated Drivers of Employment Results (LADDER) Act. The ACE Act would make childcare more affordable and accessible for working families across Maine by modernizing an outdated childcare tax credit, and the LADDER Act would better coordinate federal work support programs for people struggling to find employment.
The three bills – the EMPOWER Act, the ACE Act, and the LADDER Act – form Senator King’s anti-poverty agenda, which is aimed at improving federal government programs to help lift Americans out of poverty, put them back into the workforce, and reduce reliance on government assistance programs.
“It’s this simple: we can’t get people back to work if they can’t afford childcare or if the programs meant to help them aren’t working like they should. And when people aren’t entering the workforce, we can’t expect Maine’s economy to grow,” Senator King said. “With the changes I’m offering today, we can strengthen existing programs and make them a more effective tool for moving people out of poverty, off government assistance, and into the workforce where they can help drive our economy.”
The Access to Childcare Expansion Act:
According to the Economic Policy Institute, for nearly half the country the annual cost of full-time childcare for a 4-year old is greater than the average cost of in-state tuition at a four-year college or university. That financial pressure impacts low-wage workers even more, with poor working families spending on average more than 30 percent of their income on childcare.
The federal government provides a tax benefit, known as the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, to help offset the cost of childcare, but it’s in need of modernization. Not only has the credit’s value failed to keep pace with inflation, meaning its value has substantially eroded over time, but it also is ineffective for low-income families because it’s not refundable. The ACE Act would modernize the tax credit by increasing its value and expanding its reach, helping lower the cost of childcare for working families and allow parents to focus on keeping or finding a job. More specifically it would:
- Index the credit to inflation: By indexing the credit to inflation, the legislation ensures that the value of the credit will not be eroded over time by rising childcare costs, but instead, will remain at a sufficient level to help make costs more affordable.
- Increase the value of the credit: By raising the credit rate for families of all income levels, creating a new top credit rate of 50 percent that phases down to 35 percent for higher-income families, the legislation expands the reach of the credit and will put more money back into the pockets of working parents.
- Make the credit refundable: Under current law, the tax credit is not refundable which means that many low-income families it is intended to help receive no benefit. By making the credit refundable, the legislation will help more low-wage working parents afford childcare.
The legislation is supported by the Maine Children’s Alliance and First Focus Campaign for Children:
“With over two-thirds of Maine children under age six living with both parents in the workforce, access to affordable, high quality child care is critical for Maine families,” said Rita Furlow, Senior Policy Analyst at the Maine Children’s Alliance. “Senator King’s new bill, the Access to Childcare Expansion Act, seeks to make necessary updates to a critical resource for working families across the country. By making the credit refundable and adjusting it for inflation, the ACE Act makes the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit a more effective poverty prevention program.”
“It has been proven that through tax credits and improved earnings from employment, parents can better provide high-quality childcare and a more nurturing environment that fosters early developmental and academic success in their children’s lives,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus Campaign for Children. “The Access to Childcare Expansion Act builds on that, and we commend Senator Angus King for introducing legislation that rightfully and equally invests in low-income children and their families.”
The Leveling Access to Demonstrated Drivers of Employment Results Act:
Federal programs that help people remain in their jobs or get back to work are spread across multiple government agencies, effectively splintering what should be a unified effort. The divide creates barriers to coordinating policy approaches, delivering services, evaluating programs, and adopting best practices across the agencies, thereby diminishing the effectiveness of federal workforce development efforts for people who use them, such as individuals with disabilities, veterans, people receiving income-support benefits, and their families.
The Leveling Access to Demonstrated Drivers of Employment Results (LADDER) Act would address that problem by creating the Interagency Council on Workforce Attachment. The Council’s mission would be to:
- Coordinate federal programs and activities that promote participation in the workforce by reviewing those programs and activities that exist and by improving coordination and reducing duplication among them.
- Identify effective non-federal programs and activities by reviewing regional, state, and local programs and activities, whether public or private, that promote participation in the workforce.
- Test and evaluate strategies that promote participation in the workforce by providing funds to federal agencies, state agencies, local agencies, nonprofits, and/or businesses to conduct demonstration projects designed to produce statistically valid conclusions about the projects’ impacts in order to inform future policymaking.
- Disseminate findings from program reviews and demonstration projects by developing and updating annually a National Strategic Plan to Promote Workforce Attachment that highlights effective strategies identified in the course of reviews of Federal and non-Federal programs and activities and reviews of Council-funded demonstration projects, and that makes recommendations for legislative and administrative actions to improve the coordination and effectiveness of related Federal programs and activities.
The bill is endorsed by the National Skills Coalition:
“As our economy grows, it's vital that we invest in the skills of our workforce to ensure that everyone, including low-income workers and other individuals with barriers to employment, can take advantage of emerging job opportunities,” said Kermit Kaleba, Federal Policy Director of the National Skills Coalition. “The LADDER Act would strengthen alignment across federal workforce and human services programs and provide important resources to support innovative workforce strategies at the state and local levels. We applaud Senator King for his leadership on this issue.”
The introduction of the bills today follows Senator King’s introduction of the EMPOWER Act, bipartisan legislation that would modernize the federal government’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to help lift more low-income families out of poverty and put them back onto the path to economic self-sufficiency.