Faith Groups Push to Scrap Mandates in Biden’s Child Care Plan

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WASHINGTON – A coalition of conservative religious groups is heavily lobbying to remove a non-discrimination provision from President Biden’s ambitious pre-kindergarten and childcare plans, fearing that their programs could be excluded by receiving a huge new infusion of federal funds.

The struggle could have dire consequences for a key part of Mr Biden’s $ 1.85 trillion social policy bill that the House of Representatives is due to consider later this week. It could go a long way in determining which programs, neighborhoods, and families can benefit from the breakthrough early childhood benefits set out in the legislation, since daycare and preschools affiliated with religious organizations make up a significant portion of the services offered in the United States – according to a survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center last year, which provides for up to 53 percent of families.

The provision at issue is a standard provision in many federal laws that require all providers to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws. Religious organizations whose childcare programs are currently exempt from some of these laws argue that doing so would effectively discourage many of their providers from participating, while civil rights advocates argue that it is long overdue for such institutions to abide by.

Some of the faith groups are pushing lawmakers to abolish or change non-discrimination language, claiming that doing so would essentially exclude them from the new federal program unless they make major changes to the way they work. For example, federal funds could prohibit going to programs that refused to hire a gay employee, favor applicants of their faith, or fail to renovate their facilities to accommodate disabled students.

The organizations argue that the rules would force them to choose between participating in the childcare initiative and continuing to teach religious content, convening programs for boys or girls, or preferring to hire or accept people of their religion. Congress officials working on the bill do not believe that it prohibits religious organizations from teaching religious content.

The groups – including the American leaders of the Catholic Church and one of the largest Orthodox Jewish groups in the country – claim that if the bill is not rewritten, they will be forced to reject families who want to take advantage of the bill to bring children in send their children to centers.

“It will be detrimental to our ability to participate,” said Jennifer Daniels, associate director of public order for the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference. “It would affect our ability to hold on to our Catholic mission in many ways. We worked really hard to voice our concerns. “

Your efforts appear to have gained momentum in the Senate, where Joe Manchin III.

But in the House of Representatives, Democrats are just as adamant that the provision be maintained to prevent federal funds from flowing to discriminatory organizations. Defenders include the Black Caucus of Congress and Rep. Robert C. Scott, Democrat of Virginia and chair of the Education and Labor Committee, which included it in social policy.

The battle over preschool and childcare programs is one of the greatest conflicts that must be resolved before the social policy laws can be passed by Congress and come into effect by Mr Biden.

“The Build Back Better Act should not allow government-sponsored discrimination – in employment or in the provision of services to participants – in publicly funded programs,” said Scott and Rep. Joyce Beatty, Ohio Democrat and chairwoman of the Black Caucus, wrote in a previously unpublished letter to spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi.

“We believe it is wrong to allow such discrimination, which is funded with public funds raised from all taxpayers,” the lawmakers wrote. “We ask that you oppose any effort to remove or change the non-discrimination provisions contained in the childcare and universal preschool provisions of the Build Back Better Act.”

The bill would allocate nearly $ 400 billion to help states build universal pre-kindergartens and affordable childcare programs over six years. This is to ensure that the vast majority of families – those with four-person households up to $ 300,000 – spend no more than 7 percent of their income on childcare. Families earning less than 75 percent of the state’s median income would not pay anything.

It specifically includes religious organizations.

“Nothing in this section precludes the use of such certificates for sectarian childcare services when freely chosen by parents,” it says. “For the purposes of this section, childcare certificates are deemed to be federal financial support for the provider.”

It is about the probably essential change that the draft law would bring about with regard to the handling of the federal government with facilities that receive subsidies for the care of young children. For decades, low-income families have received funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant program that they can use in various day care centers. However, because these centers are not necessarily considered direct recipients of federal funding, they are not bound by some non-discrimination laws.

A similar situation exists for religious elementary schools, which receive money through local school systems to educate low-income students.

Mr Scott’s legislation would categorize any pre-kindergarten or daycare center participating in the new program as a government grant recipient and require them to either comply with non-discrimination laws or reject families, the conservative religious organizations argue.

The bill would also prohibit any childcare worker from using the funds to work on “buildings or facilities primarily used for sectarian education or religious services”.

Senate Democrats say they are working to accommodate religious organizations that raise objections, but will not agree to anything that would allow religious providers to discriminate against families who wish to host children in their facilities. They note that some religious organizations – especially those with a less conservative worldview – have no problem with the bill, including some that have signed a letter urging it to pass.

And civil rights groups have harshly pushed back efforts to repeal the non-discrimination rule, stating that any institution seeking federal funding must submit to such laws.

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“Who do you want to exclude? Is it the lesbian mother you want to exclude? ”Said Liz King, director of the Education Equity Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Is it the children with autism that you want to exclude? Since 1964 at the latest, it has been the law and principle that federal funds may not be used for discrimination. Nobody should have to subsidize their own discrimination. “

But religious organizations that have successfully avoided federal mandates for decades say the legislation could cripple their educational programs.

“Typically, Catholic schools and most non-public schools intentionally avoid federal beneficiary status as it creates a number of federal regulatory obligations that non-public schools are currently not required to adhere to,” said Michael B. Sheedy, executive director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Florida, wrote in a letter to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida last week. “Among the most obviously worrying provisions are non-discrimination provisions related to sexual orientation and gender identity, which could create religious freedom issues for religious providers.”

Mr Manchin recently raised the subject at a closed public meeting with Senate Democrats, stressing that the Church and other religious organizations play a vital role in the care of many families in West Virginia, according to a person familiar with his comments .

Mr Manchin argued that a little money would go a big way in helping religiously affiliated institutions provide quality education for pre-K children, the person said, insisting that they are entitled to whatever funds are available. His position was widely supported by the other Democratic senators in the room, said two people familiar with the private discussion, who described it on condition of anonymity. The Democrats did not go into the intricacies of the dispute during their discussion, it said.

The debate is the latest skirmish in the battle over the role of religious organizations in participating in government programs – and how to involve them while ensuring federal non-discrimination protection that may contradict their practices and beliefs.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone on the grounds of “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” It exempted church groups and religious organizations, but the law made no mention of whether such provisions could apply if the groups accepted federal funding.

President George W. Bush has made it easier for churches and other religious organizations to obtain federal funds while circumventing certain anti-discrimination laws through a series of executive orders.

The United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Orthodox Union want these practices to be continued. Over the past few days, they have argued with members of Congress that they could not accept money to run preschool or childcare programs unless the bill specifically exempts them from anti-discrimination laws like Title IX, which protects against gender discrimination, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, which they argue could require costly upgrades to old buildings, including places of worship.

“We appreciate that key Senate Democrats told us they would agree that churches and synagogues need to be included, but the devil is actually in the details,” said Nathan J. Diament, director of public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. “Currently there are details in the wording of the legal text that discourage believing providers from participating, if not even impossible.”