Government

Kamala Harris' 'Children's Agenda' includes six months family leave, child-care cost cap

Presidential candidate talks plan with kids' advocates in Cedar Rapids

Sen. Kamala Harris talks with area education and childcare leaders during a Caucus For Kids campaign event at the Cedar Rapids Education Association in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Caucus for Kids is a project of the Children’s Policy Coalition, which has invited presidential candidates to answer questions about education, childcare, and family and economic issues affecting children. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sen. Kamala Harris talks with area education and childcare leaders during a Caucus For Kids campaign event at the Cedar Rapids Education Association in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Caucus for Kids is a project of the Children’s Policy Coalition, which has invited presidential candidates to answer questions about education, childcare, and family and economic issues affecting children. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Even with help from grandparents and scholarships, Elizabeth Kehret said she spends about $1,000 per month on child care for her two daughters.

Expecting her third baby in December, the mother from Waterloo told presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Wednesday it’s a challenge not only to afford care, but to find it.

“I told my day care facility that I was expecting before many other important people in my life, in order to reserve that spot,” Kehret, 34, said.

Harris said she would propose a cap on child care costs, of 7 percent of a family’s income, if elected president — one of several plans in her Children’s Agenda released this month.

The California senator discussed her policy plans for children during a meeting with about a dozen child advocates from various Iowa agencies at the Iowa State Education Association offices in Cedar Rapids.

One of the first presidential candidates this cycle to introduce an education policy idea — to use federal funds to boost teacher pay — Harris said children’s issues unfortunately can be dismissed as “small people, small issues” in large presidential races.

For her, “It’s a priority issue,” she said. “And again, not just because we love and care about children. If you want a strong America, if you want a competitive America, if you want a healthy America, if you want a safe America — focus on children.”

Harris’ Children’s Agenda also promises six months of paid family leave, an end to juveniles being charged as adults and a social worker and nurse at every school.

Brian Ahlberg, president of the national Every Child Matters not-for-profit that organized the event, said children’s well-being so far has not been a main focus of the 2020 race — despite its relevance for Iowa voters.

“But this really rises to the top of issues that voters care about,” Ahlberg said, referring to a May poll by Selzer and Co. that found 80 percent of Iowa voters believe children’s health, education and well-being should be addressed by presidential candidates. Every Child Matters commissioned the poll with the Iowa Children’s Policy Coalition.

Every Child Matters started hosting Caucus for Kids events such as the Wednesday gathering to create a forum for candidates to delve into such policies, he said.

So far, author Marianne Williamson, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julian Castro, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney have participated in Caucus for Kids Facebook live events filmed across Iowa.

“More and more are putting out comprehensive kids’ agendas or specific” agendas, Ahlberg said. “Child care happens to be the most salient, if you separate out single issues of the kids’ issues.”

Other candidates’ proposals for children include Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to introduce universal child care and Williamson’s pitch to create a federal Department of Children and Youth.

Representatives of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, Mothers on the Frontline and the Cedar Rapids School Board attended the Harris event, where she also discussed her intentions to take executive action after 100 days in office to put comprehensive background checks in place for firearm purchases and ban the importation of assault weapons, reunite children separated from their families at the Mexico border and use tax credits to cut the nation’s child poverty rate in half.

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“It seems so obvious, who would say they don’t care about children?” she said. “But our policies and the way that we’ve placed priorities has not reflected that. It just hasn’t.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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