May 3, 2004
On Mother’s Day, “Thank You” Is Not EnoughThis Sunday, May 9, is the special day Americans set aside to salute our moms and to celebrate motherhood. Being a mother is a largely thankless job – but not on this day, when we stop to express our love and gratitude. I have vivid and treasured memories of my own mother, who was an immigrant from a tiny village in what is now Slovenia. For her, being a mother was truly a labor of love. But make no mistake, for all moms, this labor of love is also a job -- cooking, cleaning, shopping, tutoring, driving, and so much more. It is a job that requires endless dedication and hard work. When I was growing up, most mothers were housewives. But times have changed dramatically. Today, a majority of mothers also hold down jobs outside the home. They look upon their family responsibilities at home as a kind of “second shift.” So on Mother’s Day, it is not enough to bring flowers and say thank you. We should also consider what we can do to support working mothers in their multiple responsibilities. Judging from countless conversations I have had with working moms, a major issue is access to quality, affordable child care. Bear in mind that, in Iowa, nearly two-thirds of mothers with kids under age six are in the workforce. That is the second highest rate in the nation. This means that children in Iowa spend a large percentage of their formative years in day care. The bad news is that the availability of quality day care has not kept pace with demand. I have lost count of all the parents who tell me that they must leave their children in what they know is substandard day care either because they cannot find quality care or because they cannot afford quality care. Low-income working families often spend up to 50 percent of their paychecks on child care. One mother told me of the guilt she felt leaving her kids in front of the TV set most of the day, but that this was the only option she had. These stories are devastating -- and unacceptable. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences show that the first three years of a child's life are critically important. Some 80 percent of brain development occurs before a child’s third birthday. Children who do not benefit from rich, enjoyable, emotionally and intellectually stimulating learning experiences during these all-important years can be stunted for life. I believe that government should play a role in improving access to quality, affordable child care. In my role as chairman, and more recently as ranking member, of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of Appropriations, I secured an additional $200 million to improve the quality of child care. In addition, I am fighting for legislation that would provide an additional $6 billion to improve the quality of child care, while giving more families access to child care assistance. We talk a lot in this country about budget deficits and the need to set priorities. I agree. Surely one of our top priorities must be strengthening our families. If we can afford tens of billions of dollars for a trip to Mars, then we can certainly afford more generous investments in quality, affordable child care. So on this Mother’s Day, by all means shower your mother with flowers and gratitude. But don’t stop there. Contact your state legislators and members of Congress and tell them we need to do more to ensure that every mother has access to quality, affordable child care.