EDUCATION

Faith groups push to scrap new mandate in Biden’s child care plan

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Faith groups push to scrap new mandate in Biden’s child care plan

WASHINGTON — A coalition of religious groups is making an intense lobbying effort to remove a non-discrimination provision from President Biden’s ambitious preschool and child care plans, fearing it would make their programs a huge new influx of federal money. will be disqualified from receiving.

The battle for the central component of Mr Biden’s $1.85 trillion social policy bill could have big consequences, which the House is to consider as soon as this week. This could go a long way toward determining which programs, neighborhoods, and families could benefit from the historic early childhood benefits established in law, given that child care centers and preschools affiliated with religious organizations are in the United States. make up a substantial portion of those offered. States – serving 53 per cent of the households, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Bipartisan Policy last year.

The provision at issue is a standard in many federal laws, which would mandate that all providers comply with federal nondiscrimination laws. Religious organizations, whose child care programs are currently exempt from such laws, argue that this would effectively block many of their providers from participating, while civil rights advocates argue that it is necessary for such institutions to comply. This is a very long time.

Some religion groups are pressuring lawmakers to scrap or revise non-discriminatory language, claiming it will essentially exclude them from the new federal program unless they are big on their way of doing things. don’t make changes. For example, it could block federal funds from going to programs that refuse to hire a gay worker, give preference to applicants of their religion, or to upgrade their facilities to accommodate students with disabilities. fail in.

The organizations argue that the rules would force them to choose between participating in child care initiatives and teaching religious material, holding all-boys or all-girls events, or prioritizing people of their religion in recruitment or admission.

The group – American leaders of the Catholic Church and one of the largest Orthodox Jewish groups in the country – argue that unless the bill is rewritten, they will be forced to turn away families who want to send children. want to use the profit from the bill. Center.

“It would be detrimental to our ability to participate,” said Jennifer Daniels, associate director of public policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It will affect our ability to stick with our Catholic mission in different ways. We’ve worked really hard to make our concerns known.”

His efforts have gained some traction in the Senate, where Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a major Democratic swing vote on the social policy bill, has told Democrats privately that he wants to ensure that religious programs are fully implemented. Participate in child care initiatives. ,

But in the House, Democrats are equally adamant that the provision should be upheld to block the flow of federal funds to any organization that discriminates. Defenders include the Congressional Black Caucus and Representative Robert C. Scott, Democrat of Virginia and chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, who wrote it into a social policy legislation.

The battle over preschool and child care programs is among major conflicts that have yet to be resolved before the social policy legislation Congress is cleared and signed into law by Mr.

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“The Build Back Better Act should not allow for government-funded discrimination – in employment or in the provision of services to participants – in publicly funded programs,” said Mr. Scott and Representative Joyce Beatty, Democrat of Ohio and chair of the Black Caucus. , wrote in a previously undisclosed letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We believe that it is wrong to allow such discrimination with public money collected from all taxpayers,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are asking you to oppose any attempt to remove or replace the non-discrimination provisions included in the child care and universal preschool provisions of the Build Back Better Act.”

The bill would provide nearly $400 billion to help states create universal preschool and affordable child care programs over six years. The aim is to ensure that the majority of families – whose four-person households make up to $300,000 – spend no more than 7 percent of their income on child care. Families earning less than 75 per cent of the state’s average income will not have to pay anything.

This clearly includes religious organizations.

“Nothing in this section shall preclude the use of such certificates for communal child care services if the parent chooses freely,” it says. “For the purposes of this section, child care certificates shall be considered federal financial assistance to the provider.”

The issue marks a major change in how the bill will treat how the federal government treats institutions receiving aid to care for young children. For decades, low-income families have received funding from the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program, which they can use at a variety of child care centers. But since those centers are not considered direct recipients of federal funds, they are not bound by non-discrimination laws.

A similar situation exists for religious primary schools that receive funding through local school systems to educate low-income students.

Mr. Scott’s law would classify any preschool or child care center that participates in the new program as a federal financial recipient, requiring it to either comply with non-discrimination laws or turn families away.

The bill prohibits any child care provider from “using funds to perform work on buildings or facilities that are primarily used for communal instruction or religious worship.”

Senate Democrats say they are working to accommodate religious organizations that object, but will not agree to anything that would allow religious providers to discriminate against families who send children to their facilities. wish to enroll in. They note that some religious organizations – particularly those with less conservative worldviews – have no problem with the bill, including some who have signed a letter urging its passage.

And civil rights groups have stressed efforts to remove the nondiscrimination provision, saying that any institution that wants to receive federal funding must submit to such laws.

“Who do they want to shut up? Is this the gay mom you want to shut up?” said Liz King, director of the Education Equity Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Is it the kids with autism that you want to close? Since at least 1964, the law and basic principle has been that federal funds cannot be used for discrimination. Don’t subsidize your discrimination to anyone. needed.”

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But religious organizations that have successfully articulated federal mandates for decades say the law may be crippling to their educational programs.

“As a general rule, Catholic schools and most non-public schools purposefully avoid federal financial recipient status, as it triggers a whole host of federal regulatory obligations with which non-public schools are currently need not comply,” Michael B. Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote last week in a letter to Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. “Provisions of most obvious concern include non-discrimination provisions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity that could create religious freedom issues for religious providers.”

Mr Manchin raised the issue in a recent closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, emphasizing that churches and other faith-based organizations play an important role in caring for many families in West Virginia, from his comments. According to a person familiar.

Mr Manchin argued that a little money would go a long way in helping religiously affiliated institutions provide quality education for pre-K children, and insisted they were eligible for any funds available. Will be His position was widely agreed among other Democratic senators in the room, said two people familiar with the private discussion, who described it on condition of anonymity. He said that the Democrats did not get into the finer details of the controversy during their discussions.

The debate is the latest in a fight over the role of religious organizations in participating in government programs – and how to contain those who may conflict with their practices and beliefs, while ensuring federal nondiscrimination protections.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone because of “a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” It exempted church groups and faith-based organizations, but the act made no mention of whether such provisions could be enforced if the groups accepted federal funding.

President George W. Bush, through a series of executive orders, bypassed some anti-discrimination laws to make it easier for churches and other faith-based organizations to obtain federal funding.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Orthodox Union wants those practices to remain in place. In recent days, he has made the case to members of Congress that they cannot accept money to run a preschool or child care program unless a bill explicitly exempts them from anti-discrimination laws, such as the title IX, which protects against discrimination by sex, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he argues may require costly upgrades to older buildings, including houses of worship.

“We appreciate that prominent Senate Democrats have told us that they agree that churches and synagogues should be included, but the devil is really in the details,” said Nathan J., director of public policy at the Union of Conservative Jewish Associations of America. Diamant said. , “Right now, the way the bill text is drafted, there are details that don’t make it impossible for faith-based providers to participate.”

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