Senator Smith, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Expand Child Care in Rural Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Mike Braun (R-IN) to introduce bipartisan, bicameral legislation to improve the availability and quality – and lower the cost – of childcare in agricultural and rural communities.

A companion version of the Expanding Childcare in Rural America (ECRA) Act of 2023 was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA-3), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR-5), Tracey Mann (R-KS-1), and Yadira Caraveo (D-CO-8).

“Access to childcare is essential, but for too many families living in rural places, it is out of reach”, said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “I’ve heard from Minnesotans who have to drive 50 miles to take their kids to childcare and from providers who are struggling to find and keep staff.  This bill will help improve the quality, availability and affordability of childcare in rural communities to help ensure that parents have the ability to pursue their careers.”

“Child care is far too expensive and too hard to find for Ohio families, and parents in rural Ohio face unique challenges. Farm communities often lack enough transportation infrastructure and don’t have enough high-quality child care providers, and rural parents are more likely to work non-traditional hours,” said Sen. Brown, a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “These are commonsense, bipartisan steps to make child care more affordable and accessible in rural communities, so that more Ohio parents can support their families.”

“Access to childcare is a top priority for both families and employers in every corner of Kansas,” Sen. Marshall said. “With a few changes to the USDA’s Rural Development programs, which benefit our rural communities, we can build the necessary childcare infrastructure that puts our children on the right educational path and provides them with a strong foundation for the future.”

“Child care in rural communities like mine is next to impossible to find and afford. Before coming to Congress, my husband and I brought our son to our auto repair shop most days because there were no other child care options available,” said Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez. “Our bipartisan bill will make child care more accessible and affordable in rural communities so families can get the support they need no matter where they live.”

“During the two Farm Bill listening sessions I’ve held with Oregon farmers and ranchers, they’ve raised concerns about a lack of access to child care. I brought this problem to Secretary Vilsack’s attention when he was in front of the Agriculture Committee, but it’s clear Congress needs to take proactive steps to help these parents. I’m honored to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation that directs the USDA to help parents in rural areas find accessible, affordable, and high-quality care for their children,” Rep.Chavez-DeRemer said.

“Raising a family is one of the highest callings on earth, and people often choose where to live and work based around that calling,” said Rep. Mann. “The men and women who work tirelessly to feed, fuel, and clothe us all deserve to raise their families in a healthy environment full of opportunities where children can grow and learn. With this bill, Congress can improve the quality of life for rural Americans, promote low cost, high quality childcare in agricultural and rural communities, and help those communities attract and retain a vibrant and healthy workforce.” 

“As a pediatrician, I’ve seen the toll it takes on families when they don’t have affordable, reliable childcare. That burden is even more present in rural communities, where there are fewer providers, and families may have to travel a great distance for childcare. I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort to ensure rural families have access to the low-cost, high-quality childcare they need and deserve,” said Rep. Caraveo.

The Expanding Childcare in Rural America Act would direct U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development to authorize and prioritize projects that address the availability, quality, and cost of childcare in agricultural and rural communities through the following programs:

  1. The Community Facilities Program offers direct loans, loan guarantees and grants to develop or improve essential public services and facilities in communities across rural America. 
  2. Community Facilities Technical Assistance and Training Grant offers grants to eligible public bodies and private, nonprofit organizations (such as states, counties, cities, townships, incorporated towns, villages, boroughs, authorities, districts, and Tribes located on Federal or state reservations) to provide technical assistance and/or training in support of the essential community facilities program.
  3. The Business & Industry Loan Guarantee Program provides loan guarantees to commercial lenders for loans to eligible rural businesses.
  4. The Rural Business Development Grant Program is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training, and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas that have fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in gross revenues.
  5. The Rural Innovation Strong Economy Grant Program offers grant assistance to create and augment high-wage jobs, accelerate the formation of new businesses, support industry clusters and maximize the use of local productive assets in eligible low-income rural areas.
  6. The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program provides loans and grants to Microenterprise Development Organizations (MDOs) to provide microloans for microenterprise startups and growth through a Rural Microloan Revolving Fund; and provide training and technical assistance to microloan borrowers and micro entrepreneurs.

The bill would also allow USDA to make awards through intermediaries such as, childcare resource and referral organizations, staffed family childcare networks, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other nonprofits with demonstrated expertise in the childcare sector.