Mayors from 4 Wisconsin cities urge Congress to pass Biden social safety net plan, emphasizing child care

As Congress debates a spending package that includes money for child care, there are parents across Wisconsin who know firsthand how expensive it can be and how difficult it is to find.

It is so difficult that some parents sometimes bring their children to work — if it’s allowed — or start their own businesses where they can set the rules.

That’s what Patrick Langston and his spouse of 13 years did. The decided to open up Kenosha Beauty Supply in 2018 where their youngest child would come to work with them after the venture moved from an in-home business to a small storefront.

“You don’t see many dads doing that. And I think it’s something that’s lost — (fathers) are always working and are behind the scenes. But I think there’s a new wave of dads coming,” said Langston, who is a member of the statewide group Parents Advocating for Child Care.

He recalled a time when he and his wife had their first two kids and only $5, trying to figure out how the family would survive.

“I understand the struggle of not having much and wanting to elevate you and your kids’ life,” he said.

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More affordable child care is part of what the Biden administration has dubbed the Build Back Better Plan, but the bill is opposed by all Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who take issue with the price tag and the social spending it includes. The plan would cap child care expenses based on family income, extend the Child Tax Credit and provide universal free pre-school. It’s just one of many elements in the bill, which also addresses infrastructure and climate change. 

In a virtual event Thursday, mayors from the cities of Racine, Madison, Wausau and Sheboygan pushed for federal lawmakers to come to an agreement on a plan they called “transformational” and what Racine Mayor Corey Mason described as “a once in a generation chance” to provide “real opportunities to get into the middle class and thrive.”

Many businesses around the state have complained they can’t find workers, some blaming federal unemployment benefits that have expired. But Madison’s mayor noted that child care has long been an issue for working parents, and it became even more difficult during the pandemic.

“As I walk with large employers around the city, everyone is identifying the lack of child care as a real barrier to people reentering the workforce,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

But Biden’s plan faces opposition within his own party and Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who take issue with the price tag and the social spending it includes.

In a Sunday appearance on Fox News, Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said that “oftentimes, in Washington D.C., gridlock is the better alternative. But when it’s Democratic gridlock? Pray for it,” Johnson said. “I hope that’s exactly what happens.”

The mayors who spoke Thursday in support of more spending on climate change, infrastructure and child care disagree, saying the pandemic exposed areas in which those who are lower income experience more hardship because these issues affect them more.

“Thinking about child care alone, in Marathon County, we lost 55 percent of our child care providers during the last recession. That was 10 years ago,” said Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg.

As a result, she said, people still have difficulty finding child care they can afford.