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Here’s how Child Care Remains an Obstacle as More Women Run for Political Office

As More Women Run for Office, Child Care Remains Hurdle

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Child care
Children peer out a screened window in the fence at the Wallingford Child Care Center in Seattle. VOA

When Kimberly Dudik ran for her fourth term in the Montana House, state officials told her she could not use campaign money to pay for child care for her four young children.

She is now running for attorney general and is trying to visit a big chunk of the sprawling state, spending hours on the road. That means she needs even more help picking up her kids at school and day care when she’s away and her husband has a late night at the office.

“It just seems behind the times,” Dudik, whose family is living off her husband’s income and savings from her work as a lawyer. “When it was a man campaigning, the woman was traditionally the one to stay home and take care of the children. There is not someone home just taking care of the kids.”

Kimberly Dudik children care
Montana Rep. Kimberly Dudik, said, “When it was a man campaigning, the woman was traditionally the one to stay home and take care of the children. There is not someone home just taking care of the kids.” VOA

Experts predict a large number of women will again run for office in 2020 like they did in 2018, and child care remains a hurdle for many of them.

A congressional candidate in New York successfully petitioned the Federal Election Commission in 2018 to allow campaign money to help cover child care costs. But it applies only to those running for federal office.

That leaves women in many states who are running for the Legislature, statewide positions like attorney general or local offices to find another way to pay for child care as they campaign, which often requires night and weekend work.

Only six states have laws specifically allowing campaign money to be used for child care. Five states are considering it. In most states, including Montana, the law is silent on the issue and up to interpretation by agencies or boards. Agencies in at least nine states have allowed child care to be a campaign-related expense, but those decisions are not law and could be reversed.

Utah law

Utah is among the states that passed a gender-neutral child care expense law, which went into effect last May. Sponsored by Republican state Rep. Craig Hall, it easily passed the GOP-dominated legislature.

Luz Escamilla child care
Democratic Sen. Luz Escamilla says that without a paycheck, it was hard to cover the cost of child care for her two youngest daughters. VOA

Luz Escamilla was one of the first candidates to use it as she campaigned to become the first Latina mayor of Salt Lake City. Escamilla had to take time off from her full-time banking job to knock on doors and shake hands as she made her case to voters.

Without a paycheck, it was hard to cover the cost of child care for her two youngest daughters. After the law was passed, she used about $1,500 in campaign cash over two months to help pay for it. The extra time she could spend campaigning helped propel her to a spot in the general election, though she lost in November.

“Full-time campaigning during the summer with toddlers, it makes it really difficult,” Escamilla said, adding of the law: “It was a great tool in our toolbox.”

Other states

Lawmakers in Minnesota added child care as an allowable expense in 2018, while Colorado, New York, New Hampshire and California passed laws in 2019.

Before Colorado allowed campaign cash to be used for child care, Amber McReynolds, a former chief elections official in Denver, was contemplating a bid for statewide office in 2017. The costs of child care were a considerable concern as a single mother of two young children.

For that and other reasons, McReynolds decided against running.

Amber McReynolds child care
Amber McReynolds, director of elections for the City and County of Denver, talks during a media tour of the Denver Elections Division headquarters Friday. VOA

“When we look at the statistics in terms of representatives in Congress or statewide office and you don’t see single moms in that category, that’s why,” said McReynolds, who’s CEO of a nonprofit. “The circumstances are just that much more difficult when you are in politics.”

The policy also can help fathers running for office in families where both parents work.

Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the record number of women who ran for office in 2018 has helped drive the issue. Still, lawmakers in a number of states have resisted the change.

In Tennessee, the sponsor of a measure to add child care to the list of approved campaign expenses faced a skeptical audience during a subcommittee hearing last spring.

“If they aren’t running for office because they can’t find child care, how are they going to do the job down here?” asked state Rep. John Crawford, a Republican from Kingsport, Tennessee.

The sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Jason Powell, said he introduced the proposal after people he tried to recruit to run for City Council in Nashville declined because child care needs kept them from campaigning.

“I hate that people in our state feel like they can’t run for office because they may or may not be able to use their campaign funds for a child care expense,” Powell said.

The measure failed to advance after a split vote of the all-male subcommittee.

Louisiana reversal

In Louisiana, Democratic state House candidate Morgan Lamandre had her request denied by the state ethics board even though it allowed a Republican man to claim campaign-related child care expenses in 2000. Members, who were not on the panel two decades ago and didn’t have to follow the previous decision, said they were concerned it could be abused.

After a backlash, the board reversed itself.

While she’s used campaign funds to pay for child care a few times, Lamandre said it’s not a panacea for smaller races where candidates might have to choose between paying a baby-sitter or buying basics like lawn signs.

“It’s helpful, but it’s not a slam-dunk,” she said.

‘Time to remove the roadblocks’

Liuba Grechen-Shirley, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress on eastern Long Island and whose FEC petition led to child care expenses being allowed for federal candidates, started a group called Vote Mama to help mothers running for public office and hopes one day the expense is allowed in every state.

Liuba Grechen child care children
Liuba Grechen-Shirley, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress on eastern Long Island and whose FEC petition led to child care expenses being allowed for federal candidates, started a group called Vote Mama. VOA

States now considering proposals include New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Caitlin Clarkson Pereira tried a similar approach to Grechen-Shirley’s, but ended up suing Connecticut after a board denied her request. She was told she couldn’t use campaign money to pay for child care for her young daughter during her state House race in 2018, which she ultimately lost.

Connecticut officials cited a program that allows candidates to tap taxpayer money after they raise a certain amount on their own. With public money involved, the state says child care should be considered a personal expense.

Pereira argued that it should be considered as necessary as meals or travel.

“This is the time to remove the roadblocks that are clearly in the way of parents and families being able to run for office,” she said.

Despite an eleventh-hour push last year by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, lawmakers failed to pass the policy.

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Dudik, the Montana candidate, said the lack of these laws shows the need to have more women in power so policies can be changed.

“If we want more women running for office, we need to make allowances to make that a reality and not just give lip service to it,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

This Decade to be Good for the Financial Health of Millennials

2020s Could Be Decade Millennials Finally Get Ahead

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Millennials
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Print this page The 2020s might be the decade faltering millennials finally roar to financial health. Pixabay

By Dora Mekouar

The 2020s might be the decade faltering millennials finally roar to financial health and lifestyle after a tough start brought on by the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 until 2009.

Coming of age during the worst economic downturn in the United States since the 1930s meant that many of these young people, who are now in their mid-20s to late-30s, experienced a delayed entrance into the job market or accepted lower-paying jobs for which they were overqualified.

Many millennials were hard hit due to a variety of factors, including high unemployment, student loan debt, and an increased cost of living, particularly if they graduated from high school or college during the downturn.

Millennials
Millennials Andy and Stacie Proctor stand in their new home in Vineyard, Utah. VOA

“Since then, we’ve really had a lot of wage stagnation, particularly given that so many millennials started behind where they thought they would be,” says Jason Dorsey, president and lead millennial researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics. “And it’s taken them longer to recover — if they have recovered.”

Experts also say U.S. millennials are the first generation to feel the full impact of decades of rising inequality in America.

A recent study found millennials are significantly financially worse off than previous generations were at the same age. Since 1996, the net worth of people under 35 has dropped by more than one-third, or 34 percent.

But things could be looking up for these younger Americans now that the average U.S. millennial is over the age of 30 and poised to enter the wealth-accumulation stage of their life.

“They’ve had a lot of time to learn about what it takes to succeed? What are the kinds of decisions that lead to the outcome that you want?” Dorsey says. “And for many millennials, boomers [people aged 55 to 75] are finally going to transition increasingly out of the workforce, which is going to create opportunity for them to actually move up into more management-style roles.”

Millennials
Juan Hernandez, 25, is among millennials nationwide with student debt who are worried about being able to qualify for a loan and come up with a down payment for a home. VOA

Millennials are at the age when Americans traditionally buy homes, start saving for the future, and invest for their retirement. It also will help that many have paid down their student debt now that they’ve been out of college for a number of years.

“And at the same time, many of them will become potentially two-income households and that’s also really helpful for many of them,” Dorsey says. “It’s sort of a perfect storm. It just happens to align with the 2020s. It’s not that the 2020s are this famous decade, but more so that millennials are hitting the times when they should start really saving and investing, and earning higher incomes relative to their spending.”

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And if millennials blame previous generations for their current financial straits, it might cheer them up to know this is also the time many of them can expect to start inheriting wealth from their more well-off baby boomer parents or other relatives. (VOA)