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Oregon share is $400 million, 'a good investment in our children and our future.'

PMG FILE PHOTO - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, here visiting a Columbia County school in May 2019, says child care funds in a coronavirus recovery bill could help Oregon families get back to work once the economy is able to reopen.U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici says the $39 billion for child care in President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan — $400 million of which is bound for Oregon — will enable families to go back to work.

The Washington County Democrat representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District has been a champion of federal aid for child care, which she says is vital not only to families' well-being but also the national economic recovery.

captial bureau"If families and parents are ready to go back to work and they do not have access to child care, we are not going to solve our economic crisis. That is true for parents, for caregivers and especially for mothers," Bonamici told reporters on Tuesday, March 2. "This is a first step in stabilizing the child care system — and it is a good investment in our children and our future."

She took part in a conference call with California Reps. John Garamendi, Jared Huffman and Ted Lieu about Biden's $1.9 trillion plan, which passed the House on Feb. 27 and is in the Senate.

Increased costs and decreased availability have plagued child care even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. But child care providers have been saddled with requirements for increased sanitation and social distancing, which result in higher costs and their being able to accommodate fewer children.

Bonamici has a son and daughter, both grown. She said child care affects families at all income levels. She referred to the topic after someone brought it up during a Feb. 17 telephonic town hall that drew 2,400 listeners at its peak.

"One parent told me that for any working family, child care is one of our basic needs and if child care crumbles — if it is even a fraction more difficult to find — our collective ability to work crumbles too," she said in Tuesday's call.

"I have always understood how essential accessible and affordable child care is. Costs are high, and many child care providers have closed or been pushed to the brink of closure."

Part of the plan

Child care aid is part of the $1.9 trillion plan that also provides money for coronavirus vaccine distribution, direct payments to households, extended unemployment benefits and aid to small businesses, aid for reopening public schools and more.

"This bill does everything we need," Garamendi said.

All Republicans, and only two Democrats, voted against the plan contained in HR 1913. Republicans argued that it was too expensive, coming on top of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act last spring and $900 billion more at the end of December.

But Huffman said Congress was faulted back in 2009 for providing $787 billion, including tax cuts, in aid during the Great Recession. "Half-measures are not enough," he said.

"I hope there aren't any more stumbling blocks," Bonamici said. "We need to get this American Rescue Plan passed as soon as possible and get those checks into the hands of struggling families and working people."

The extension of unemployment benefits ends on March 13.

One more vote

The House is likely to take at least one more vote, assuming the Senate passes a version of the plan, because of the Senate parliamentarian's interpretation of rules that allow the plan to pass with a simple majority of 51 instead of 60 votes. The House version contained an increase in the federal minimum wage in stages from $7.25 to $15, but the interpretation bars the Senate from including that increase under a procedure known as "budget reconciliation."

The Senate is split 50-50; Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaker.

Bonamici said an increase is justified, because the federal minimum has been at $7.25 since 2009. For a worker at $290 per week, or a gross $15,080 annually before taxes, the wage falls between 2021 federal poverty levels of $12,880 for one person and $17,420 for two people.

Oregon is among 29 states with higher minimums.

"Raising the minimum wage is going to lift a lot of people out of poverty, and that money goes right back into communities," Bonamici said. "We will continue our fight to raise the minimum wage, because we know how important that is to lift people out of poverty and that it is a critical part of the economic recovery."

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