The truth is that our government has turned its back on our families and our children. In Mitch’s Washington, everything is about big corporations, the wealthiest 1% and his donors.
The coronavirus has heightened the stress on our families in remarkable ways. Over 1 million Kentuckians have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, and 50% of families have lost income. These job and income losses have placed undue burdens on families and children, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet and those who need to find child care. Nationwide, early research suggests that low-income students may have fallen 10 months further behind their wealthy peers because of the challenges associated with the pandemic.
If Kentucky and our country are going to rebuild stronger than before, we need to focus our energy on strengthening our families and providing our young people better, fairer opportunities. To do that, we need investments in child care, in our schools and in our children. Here’s how we can help our Kentucky families and build a stronger future for our commonwealth:
As a working mom, I know the challenges that come with raising young ones while balancing a career, and understand that many workplaces do not provide the work-life balance that parents need. The pandemic has made it even more difficult to work and parent, as many kids are learning from home and haven’t been able to interact with their peers in a way that is crucial to their social and emotional development.
We need to make our workplaces work better for women and parents if we are going to strengthen our families. With more moms in the Senate, we can get it done. Here’s how:
- Increase Child Care Workers’ and Teachers’ Salaries: The average annual salary for a rural child care teacher is only $23,000. Early childhood and K-12 educators play a critical role in educating and caring for young children and supporting local economies. These roles are also disproportionately filled by women: 97% of child care workers are women. Yet, their work is severely undervalued. We need to create teacher training and recruitment programs for our public schools, and we need to offer loan forgiveness for those who teach in and stay in rural schools.
- Provide Paid Leave: As a mom, I know how important those first few months of a child’s life are. No parent should have to choose between making ends meet and spending time with their child during that formative period. I will make paid leave a priority when I am in office.
- Protect Pensions: As a veteran, I know how important my pension is to my family’s security. Now more than ever, families deserve to have peace of mind about their futures, and so we need to protect the pensions of our workers during this crisis and afterwards. We must eliminate the Windfall Elimination Provision that prevents hardworking government employees from getting the full retirement benefits they deserve.
High-quality child care is an essential service for Kentucky families, but we have not invested in our child care system. Now, we are seeing the consequences of that underinvestment: close to 50% of child care centers are at risk of closing during the pandemic. And yet, despite all of the lost jobs these closures would bring and the damage they would have on our families and economy, Mitch has refused to bring bipartisan legislation to the Senate floor that would help save them.
If we are going to support our families, we need to protect our child care now and invest into the future. Here’s how:
- Help Our Child Care Providers Survive the Pandemic: The U.S. could lose half of its child care providers without assistance. These child care closures will be disproportionately located in low- and middle-income areas, as well as in rural communities. That’s why we need to immediately pass the Child Care Is Essential Act, which will provide $50 billion to ensure that our child care providers can make it through this crisis. Despite finding $250 billion for the wealthiest 1% in the CARES Act, McConnell has refused to bring this needed legislation to the Senate floor even though it passed the House with bipartisan support.
- Address the Shortage Of Child Care Providers: 50% of Kentuckians live in child care deserts. We must address the long-term shortage of quality child care across Kentucky by providing grants to providers to help them start up in rural communities and other child care deserts.
- Expand the Child Care Tax Credit: Almost 1 in 4 children in Kentucky live in poverty. The bipartisan Bennet-Romney proposal would lift 1.5 million children out of poverty by providing a child allowance to all families with children under the age of 6. Families would receive payments throughout the year to help offset costs and to help parents return to work. I know how expensive children are, and we need to do what we can to ease that burden on our families.
- Make Child Care More Affordable: Currently, only 11% of eligible families in Kentucky receive child care assistance, because there is not enough funding to go around. We need to increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to make child care more affordable for families, and we need to increase the subsidy to child care centers so that they can afford to improve the quality of their programs.
Like all moms, ensuring my kids get the best start in life is my priority. That means gaining the academic, social-emotional and life skills they need to have a meaningful career and be healthy and happy.
But with Mitch McConnell in office, Kentucky’s education system has fallen behind the rest of our country and much of the world. Kentucky ranks 41st of the 50 states in preschool enrollment, with only 41% of our 3 and 4 year olds participating in public or private preschool. It’s not surprising then that we rank 38th in quality of education overall and 43rd for higher education.
For a brighter future for our young people, we need more investment in our schools. Here are some ways we can do that:
- Create Universal Pre-K and Invest In Head Start: Currently, only about 50% of Kentucky kids arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed in school. This has far-reaching effects, well into high school, college and career. Creating universal pre-K wil not only help with child care burdens and shortages, but it will also ensure every young person has the foundation they need for a successful future. Whereas Mitch McConnell has voted to take away Head Start from thousands of Kentuckians and ignored the needs of our young people, I will invest in good schools for our youngest Kentuckians.
- Fully Fund Our Public Schools: All our schools need to be fully staffed and have access to the resources and the technology necessary for every child to succeed, regardless of their background or where they live. Mitch McConnell has fought tooth-and-nail alongside Betsy DeVos to privatize our public schools and send our public money to charter and private schools. That’s unacceptable. Taxpayer money should not be diverted to private or charter schools.
- Invest in Our Teachers: Teaching is a form of service, and I know as a parent how grateful I am for all that our teachers do for my children and all Kentucky kids. We need to make sure our teachers can afford to teach, though. My National Service plan would offer teachers loan forgiveness for their service. We also need to protect teachers’ pensions from Mitch’s attacks. We need to ensure this virus doesn’t hurt our teachers’ future security by funding state and local governments now.
- Strive for Universal Broadband Access: More than 240,000 students in Kentucky do not have adequate devices at home and lack reliable high-speed internet. This pandemic has made it clear that a computer and internet access are the 21st century equivalents of pencil and paper. Every student needs these tools, and we have to strive for every last home to have reliable internet access.
- Invest in Equitable Schools: Our education system remains unequal in terms of resources and opportunities, so it’s not surprising that outcomes are not equal either. We need to close the estimated $23 billion funding gap between majority white and majority non-white school districts. If we can close the achievement gap, we can generate as much $160 billion for our country’s economy annually. We can support our children, fight for equality, and help our economy all at once.
When my children are sick, I worry. For so many Kentucky parents, this worry is made worse by the cost of health care. Too many parents are forced to choose between putting food on the table, getting their children medical care, and paying rent. That’s unacceptable.
We can help our families as they navigate these challenges to ensure that every child has what they need to grow up healthy and that parents have peace of mind. Here’s how:
- Create a Public Option: Every parent should know that no matter what happens to their job, they will be able to have affordable health care for their children and themselves. As a veteran, I have access to an Uncle Sam Plan that gives me that peace of mind, and I want to build a public option that any family can buy into so that every parent and child can be confident in their health and health care.
- Stop “Surprise Billing”: For too many families, an expensive, unexpected bill can devastate their finances. We need to end this practice so that families know the expenses they’ll face and can plan accordingly.
- Protect Children’s Health Care: CHIP and Medicaid cover almost 50% of the children in Kentucky. These programs improve children’s educational outcomes and have helped to reduce disparities in coverage that affect low-income children and children of color. We need to invest in and protect them from Mitch McConnell’s relentless attacks on health care.
- Protect Mother’s Maternal Health: Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, maternal mortality rates are on the rise. In the U.S., a Black woman is four times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth related causes than a white woman. In Kentucky, 50% of the births are financed by Medicaid, but currently, mothers lose coverage 60 days after birth. We must pass the bipartisan H.R.4996 – Helping MOMS Act of 2019, which would give qualifying mothers coverage through Medicaid and CHIP for up to one year postpartum.
- Advocate For Children’s Mental Health: In Kentucky, 20% of 10th graders have cut or harmed themselves at least once in their lifetime. This is a serious crisis, made worse by the lack of medical care available in many parts of the state and by the coronavirus pandemic. As the daughter of a child psychiatrist, I know the necessity of getting young people the support they need, which is why I support the Affordable Care Act making mental health one of the 10 essential services that insurers must cover.
The safety and health of our children is foundational to our peace of mind as parents. Children need environmentally safe homes, and parents need to be able afford stable housing. And our communities need basic infrastructure that guarantees reliable access to necessities like water.
However, after years of Mitch ignoring our infrastructure, our children and families are often at risk of being exposed to dangerous toxins, lack access to modernized HVAC systems, and cannot find affordable housing. Here are some ways we can start to change that:
- Increase Access to Affordable, Safe Housing: Studies have shown that there is a strong link between a child growing up in a safe, quality house and a child’s ability to thrive. We can increase homeownership by getting Black, Latino and Indigenous families access to banking systems (via postal banking and other means) and using tax incentives to make home purchasing more affordable for first-time buyers. A part of increasing equitable home ownership is also enforcing HUD rules that tie federal funding to progress in reducing segregation.
- Improve School Infrastructure: In Kentucky, school infrastructure is crumbling, and there are limited resources to fix it. The state needs an additional $453 million to fix the problems. We need to create federal grants for the explicit purpose of investing in infrastructure updates for our school districts so that every child can go to a school with functioning HVAC systems, clean water, functioning internet and computers.
- Eliminate Health Hazards: In some parts of Kentucky, thousands of children go without clean water. Across Eastern Kentucky, coal mines leave much of the environment hazardous. In West Louisville, industrial pollution in Rubbertown appears to be responsible for many poor and Black Louisvillians losing years of life. We cannot expect our families to thrive if their children are exposed to dangerous chemicals and are forced to go without clean water. We need to pass the RECLAIM Act, provide Martin County the $10 million needed to fix its water pipes, and invest significant sums in cleaning up toxins in West Louisville. Moving forward, we need to enforce HUD and EPA rules that keep our children safe and aid their development.