Federally subsidized child care providers will have to conduct criminal background checks on their workers and undergo a yearly inspection under legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
Obama said the first revamping of the government's chief child care program in nearly two decades will improve safety and the quality of child care, plus give working parents more peace of mind. Lawmakers gave final approval to the legislation Monday in a rare bipartisan agreement for a Congress that's been dominated by partisan strife.
"It shows that Democrats and Republicans, when it comes to making sure our kids are getting the best possible education, are united," Obama said, surrounded in the Oval Office by lawmakers from both parties who worked to get the legislation passed. As he signed the document using a tray of 10 pens, Obama said, "I love signing bills. I'd like to do it more often. What do you say, guys?"
Under the $5.3 billion-a-year program, low-income parents who work are enrolled in school or job training or who need protective services can use vouchers to pay for childcare costs at homes and centers. It served an estimated 1.5 million children under age 13 last year.
The new law will require states to conduct at least one inspection annually of daycare centers. And it mandates that workers are trained in first aid and other safety needs.
It also allows parents whose incomes rise above the program's limits to continue receiving child care for at least a year. Currently, they can be disqualified within a month. Obama said that is important so parents won't worry about immediately losing care if they find a job or get a raise.
The Child Care and Development Block Grant program was first enacted in 1990 under President George H.W. Bush and was last updated in 1996.
Obama said he pushed legislation to overhaul the child care standards in 2010, but when it didn't pass his administration began a rulemaking process to try to accomplish some of the goals. He said now the administration will end that rulemaking and focus on implementing the law.