Amid Disastrous Debate, a Lost Opportunity to Address Children’s Issues

Asked the one question that touched on kids Thursday, Trump and Biden largely traded barbs on who was the worst U.S. president.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice/The 74/Getty Images

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It was the moment in last Thursday’s presidential debate that parent advocates were waiting for — and the only question focused on children.

“In your second term, what would you do to make child care more affordable?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked former President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate.

The National Parents Union and Moms First, two nonprofits focused on family issues, petitioned CNN to ask the question, delivering over 13,000 signatures to a producer the day before the debate.  

But rather than focus on children, many critics said the two candidates behaved like them.

Trump ignored the question. He instead denied he’s ever mocked service members and called his opponent the “worst president in the history of our country.” President Joe Biden’s comeback could be summed up as, “No, you are.” He briefly mentioned increasing the child care tax credit and urging employers to offer workplace child care, but also used some of his allotted time to insult Trump back. 

Their candidate’s performance left some Democrats completely deflated and led to unprecedented calls for Biden to step out of the race. While some party leaders have regrouped and hope to put the president’s bad night behind them, the moment was a thorough disappointment for many parents who watched.

“You’re arguing about your freaking golf game and neither one of you has any clue about how hard the child care crisis is hitting American families,” said Keri Rodriques, president of the National Parents Union. “It was just kind of a depressing night overall.”

Annual costs for child care average $11,000, and for some parents, access to free preschool doesn’t always solve the dilemma. A Las Vegas mom of four boys, Karri Siv has a 4-year-old who attends a federally funded Head Start center while her 6-year-old will start first grade this fall. As a nursing assistant who works 12-hour shifts, she can’t find care in the early morning or late evening. 

“There are a couple of 24-hour daycares, but [they’re] impossible to use because it’s just so expensive,” she said. “I’m literally living check to check.”

As part of the Jeremiah Program, an organization that supports low-income single mothers who work and go to school, she relies on a network of other moms for backup care. But those arrangements only provide a short-term fix. Siv sometimes misses work to stay home with her kids. “How much more can I call out before I get fired?” she asked.

Las Vegas mom Karri Siv works 12-hour shifts at a hospital and struggles to afford after-hours child care when her youngest two boys aren’t at Head Start or in school. (Courtesy of Karri Siv)

For now, parents interested in the candidates’ positions on the issue will have study their records.

In 2021, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which included $24 billion in relief funds to stabilize the industry during the pandemic. He ​​proposed to cap child care costs at 7% for families as part of his sweeping Build Back Better proposal, but it never got through Congress. 

Earlier this year, he issued an executive order that limits co-payments for about 100,000 families who receive child care subsidies. 

Those efforts encourage Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of MomsRising, an advocacy group. She said the Biden administration has “worked tirelessly” to lower child care costs for families.

“Moms know that there’s a chasm between these two candidates on this issue,” she said in a statement. 

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden faced off in their first — and maybe only — debate of the campaign last week. Neither had much to say about child care or education. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

The Trump years, however, included significant expansions of programs for children and families. In 2018, Congress passed a $2.4 billion increase in annual funding for child care — the largest-ever. Trump proposed a far smaller increase of $169 million and wanted to shift the remaining funds to other programs, but ultimately signed the budget without the change.

His 2017 tax cut package also doubled the child tax credit to $2,000. This year, a bipartisan bill passed the House in January that would increase the refundable amount parents can receive. But the measure has stalled in the Senate, with some Republicans arguing it would allow parents to receive more money even if they work less. 

The proposed increase in the tax credit has been another priority for groups like the National Parents Union. But the candidates didn’t talk about that topic either. 

“There were no winners after that debate — certainly not American families,” the group said in a statement. “Both candidates were embarrassingly short on policy details and left us with zero confidence that we will be better off four years from now than we are today.”

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