Mikulski child care bill poised for final approval

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Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski

WASHINGTON -- Child care workers would undergo more stringent background checks and states would be required to spend more to improve the quality of day care under legislation crafted by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski that cleared a key vote Thursday and is poised for final approval on Monday.

The measure, the first overhaul of the federal child care program aimed at low-income families in 18 years, establishes new safety requirements for day care providers, including annual facility inspections and CPR training. The measure would also require states to set aside millions more than they do now to improve the care young children receive.


The Senate voted 96 to 1 on Thursday to move the measure to the floor, a threshold that all but assures its final passage next week. The Republican-controlled House approved the measure unanimously in September, meaning the legislation is expected to go to President Barack Obama's desk for a signature.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah cast the lone vote against the bill on Thursday.


Mikulski drafted the measure with Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and the program has historically had support from Republicans who frame it as a way to help parents work. The Obama administration was independently moving toward some of the same changes through regulation, so the bill offered lawmakers an opportunity to weigh into the process.

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Mikulski and Burr suggested the smooth course the bill took through a divided Congress represented a model for how Republicans and Democrats could work together in the future.

"This shows that when we work together we get really great things done," Mikulski said on Capitol Hill shortly after the Senate vote. "We're going to bring a bill forward that everybody said could not be done."

Burr agreed.

"It has no opposition," he said. "A lot of folks said, 'This is nice, but it can't be done.'"

The legislation would update the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, originally signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. More than 1.6 million children nationally -- including about 25,000 in Maryland, according to advocates -- benefit from the $5.3 billion program.

If approved, the new requirements would apply only to day care facilities in which a child's family receives a subsidy under the federal program. But supporters hope the provisions in the legislation would become the industry standard.

Significant support for the measure has also represented a political win for Mikulski, who has managed to advance legislation despite political acrimony on Capitol Hill. As the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski negotiated a government-wide funding bill in January that passed with broad bipartisan support -- and avoided a second shutdown of the government.