Sanders Just Announced a Universal Childcare Plan. How Does It Compare to Warren’s?

If you’ve ever contemplated quitting your job because daycare costs are eating up your entire paycheck, congrats: You might be a working mom. For the first time, however, relief could be on the horizon. Multiple presidential candidates have announced measures to provide affordable childcare to every parent in America.

The latest universal childcare proposal comes courtesy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who released a plan Monday to provide childcare to all American children up to age 3, as well as full-day pre-kindergarten beginning at age 3, with no tuition or fees. In many ways, the measure is similar to one proposed in May of 2019 by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another candidate hoping to snag the Democratic party nomination for president.

We asked Julie Kashen, a senior fellow and director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation, how the two plans stack up. Here’s the gist:

On cost to families:

Sen. Sanders’ plan is free for everyone. Sen. Warren’s plan is free for everyone with an income of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $51,500 for a family of four), with sliding scale copayments equaling 1 to 7 percent of income for those earning above that level. Both plans would make childcare remarkably more affordable, since families currently spend on average between 9 and 22 percent of their income on it.

One other big difference is that Warren’s plan also includes funding for low-income families to cover the costs of summer and after-school care through age 13. Sanders’ plan doesn’t address this kind of wrap-around care for school-age children.

On wages and conditions for workers:

Despite the expense of daycare, most providers are severely underpaid. Daycare workers earn a median income of $21,170, compared to kindergarten teachers’ $54,650. Many childcare workers live below the poverty level, and almost half receive public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The Sanders plan guarantees everyone working in the field of early education a living wage. It also ensures all are compensated commensurate with their experience and training, and ensures all lead teachers are paid no less than similarly qualified kindergarten teachers. It provides strong protections for unionizing, sector-wide collective bargaining, workers’ rights, workplace safety and fair scheduling, regardless of immigration status. Warren’s proposal requires that wages and benefits for childcare workers be comparable to those of similarly credentialed local public school teachers or military childcare providers and not less than a living wage. The two plans don’t differ that much here.

On how the program provides care:

This is one of the big differences between the two proposals. It’s no surprise that Warren, who has embraced her reputation for having a plan for everything, provides more specifics. Her proposal calls for investing in, establishing and supporting a network of locally run childcare centers and early learning centers and family childcare homes, as well as maintaining funding for the current Child Care and Development Block grant program that provides care for some low-income families. (Insufficient funding means today only one in six eligible receive it.)

Sanders’ plan doesn’t provide enough details to know whether it ultimately gives parents the flexibility to get high-quality childcare when and where they need it, but under the plan, the federal government would provide funding to states, who in turn would create and maintain their own networks of childcare centers that meet federal standards for quality.

On cost of program and funding mechanism:

Not surprisingly, providing high-quality universal childcare is an expensive prospect. Sanders says his plan is projected to cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Warren’s plan would cost $1.7 billion over the same amount of time, according to a Moody’s analysis. Sanders’ plan would be funded by his proposed wealth tax on the top 0.1 percent of US households. Warren’s plan would also be funded by taxing “ultra-millionaires,” a set of about 75,000 families who have more than $50 million in wealth.

Sanders and Warren aren’t the only presidential candidates who are offering bold proposals to make childcare more affordable for American families. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has pledged $700 billion to provide affordable, full-day early childcare and pre-K for more than 20 million children from infancy to age 5, according to his website. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation to provide grants to states to expand childcare facilities or train childcare workers. Other Democratic candidates have expressed support for making childcare more affordable.

The momentum comes from a growing grassroots movement for childcare, largely built and led by women of color who are both mothers and care workers, Kashen says, as well as women candidates who helped ensure that the issues faced disproportionately by working mothers are central to the race.

“This is a case where presidential contenders are hearing from voters, as well as other candidates, about what’s important to their everyday lives, and politicians are responding in kind,” she explains. “While some policy plans are better than others, most presidential candidates, at the very least, acknowledge the overwhelming need for universal childcare and early education. That’s the real story of this election.”