Senator supports child care for businesses

Bill would give small companies $250K in grants

Mary Womack figures she’s lucky. The Kansas University junior had to wait six months to get her daughter, Kassidie, 4, into the Hilltop Child Development Center, a day care on the KU campus for the children of students, faculty and staff.

Meanwhile, Womack’s friends in the working world have had an even tougher time finding child care.

“I’ve heard it’s hard,” she said this week. “I have friends that are looking — they’re on waiting lists. And it’s really freaking expensive.”

Perhaps with such struggles in mind, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., announced this week that he would reintroduce the “Caring For Children Act,” a bill that would provide federal grants to help small businesses start child-care programs for their employees.

“This legislation will help working families who want quality child care for their children, child-care providers who aim to provide the highest quality of care, and small businesses who currently may not have the resources to provide child care for their employees,” Roberts said.

It’s unknown how many businesses in Kansas offer child care to their employees. A spokesman for Hallmark, one of the biggest private employers in Lawrence, said the company did not have such a program.

“Generally, the larger corporations in bigger towns, like Wichita,” provide child care, said David Lindeman, a researcher for KU’s Bureau of Child Research in Parsons. “In smaller communities, businesses haven’t typically ventured out and provided child care in the community.”

At KU, Hilltop has provided a close and convenient drop-off point for students and employees of the university.

“It’s extremely important and helpful to them,” said Pat Pisani, Hilltop’s director. “We’re considered a recruitment and retention effort for the university, because so many students and faculty desire quality care.”

Marea Atchinson, 2, from left, Alee Phillips and her son, Ike, seen through his birthday crown hat, celebrate Ike's second birthday in his classroom at Hilltop Child Development Center on the Kansas University campus. Phillips, a lecturer in the business department at KU, was present for the party on Tuesday. KU uses the center to provide child care for its students, faculty and staff. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has introduced a bill in Congress that would provide federal grants for child care to small businesses.

Roberts’ bill would provide grants up to $250,000 to small businesses to work together or with local child-care agencies to start up such services. Each company would have to match the federal grant, and would be expected to continue the service after the grant expired.

Versions of the bill have failed to win Senate approval in recent years. The total annual cost would be $100 million, with half going to finance training for child-care providers.

“Each year, we get it closer and closer to getting it enacted,” said Sarah Little, Roberts’ spokeswoman. “It’s one of those win-win-win bills he’s always loved.”

Anna Jennings, director of Douglas County Child Development, said there were more than 250 child-care providers in the county, many with room for more clients.

Still, she said, Roberts’ bill might prove helpful for parents and their employers.

“What it would do is make child care more friendly for employees, and it’s certainly a good thing,” she said. “It’s a great hardship to leave your child and go to work.”