Faith groups push to end mandates from Biden's childcare plan

WASHINGTON – A coalition of conservative church groups is leading an intense lobbying effort to remove a non-discrimination provision fr...


WASHINGTON – A coalition of conservative church groups is leading an intense lobbying effort to remove a non-discrimination provision from President Biden’s ambitious preschool and childcare plans, fearing it will prevent their programs from receiving huge news injection of federal funds.

The fight could have major ramifications for a central element of Mr Biden’s $ 1.85 trillion social policy bill, which the House is due to consider as early as this week. This could go a long way in determining which programs, neighborhoods and families can benefit from the significant early childhood benefits set out in legislation, given that daycares and preschools affiliated with religious organizations represent a substantial portion of those offered to states. United. States – serving as much as 53 percent of families, according to a poll conducted last year by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The provision at issue is a standard provision in many federal statutes, which would require all suppliers to comply with federal non-discrimination laws. Faith-based organizations, whose childcare programs are currently exempt from some of these laws, say it would effectively prevent many of their providers from participating, while civil rights activists argue that it is high time that these institutions comply.

Some faith groups are pushing lawmakers to remove or change non-discrimination language, saying this would essentially exclude them from the new federal agenda unless they make major changes to the way they operate. For example, this could prevent federal funds from going to programs that refuse to hire a gay employee, give preference to applicants of their faith, or fail to renovate their facilities to accommodate students with disabilities.

The organizations argue that the rules would force them to choose between participating in the childcare initiative and continuing to teach religious content, running boys-only or girls-only programs, or giving hiring or child preferences. admission to people of their religion. Members of the congressional staff working on the bill do not believe it prohibits religious organizations from teaching religious content.

Groups, including U.S. leaders of the Catholic Church and one of the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish groups, say unless the bill is rewritten, they will be forced to refuse families who wish to use the benefits of the bill to send children to their centers.

“It will hurt our ability to participate,” said Jennifer Daniels, associate director of public policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It would impact our ability to remain faithful to our Catholic mission in various ways. We have worked very hard to voice our concerns.

Their efforts appear to have gained ground in the Senate, where West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, a key Democratic vote on the social policy bill, privately told Democrats he wanted to make sure religious programs could fully participate in the childcare initiative. .

But in the House, Democrats are equally adamant that the provision be retained to prevent federal money from going to any discriminatory organization. Advocates include the Congressional Black Caucus and Representative Robert C. Scott, Democrat of Virginia and chair of the Education and Labor Committee, who enshrined it in social policy legislation.

The fight for preschool and child care programs is among the major conflicts that remain to be resolved before social policy legislation can authorize Congress and be enacted by Mr Biden.

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

“We believe that allowing such discrimination funded by public funds collected from all taxpayers is a mistake,” the lawmakers wrote. “We ask that you oppose any effort to remove or amend the non-discrimination provisions included in the child care and universal preschool education provisions of the Build Back Better Act. “

The bill would provide nearly $ 400 billion to help states implement universal six-year preschool and affordable child care programs. It aims to ensure that the vast majority of families – those with four-person households earning up to $ 300,000 – spend no more than 7% of their income on child care. Families earning less than 75 percent of the state’s median income would pay nothing.

It explicitly includes religious organizations.

“Nothing in this article prevents the use of such certificates for sectarian childcare services if they are freely chosen by the parent,” he says. “For the purposes of this article, child custody certificates are considered federal financial assistance to the provider.

What is at stake is a major change that the bill would make to the way the federal government treats institutions that receive assistance for the care of young children. For decades, low-income families have received funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant which they can use in various child care centers. But since these centers are not considered direct recipients of federal funds, they are not bound by non-discrimination laws.

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

Scott’s legislation would classify any preschool or daycare participating in the new program as a federal financial recipient, requiring them to either comply with non-discrimination laws or refuse families.

The bill would also prohibit any child care provider from using the funds to perform work on “buildings or facilities that are primarily used for sectarian education or religious worship.”

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

And civil rights groups have strongly rejected efforts to remove the non-discrimination provision, saying any institution that wishes to receive federal funds must abide by such laws.

“Who do they want to exclude? Is it the lesbian mother you want to exclude? Said Liz King, Director of the Education Equity Program at the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Are autistic children you want to exclude? Since at least 1964, the law and the rule of thumb have been that federal funds cannot be used to discriminate. No one should have to subsidize their own discrimination.

But religious organizations that have spent decades successfully avoiding federal mandates say the legislation could cripple their education programs.

“As a general rule, Catholic schools and most non-public schools deliberately avoid federal financial recipient status, as this triggers a whole host of federal regulatory obligations that non-public schools are currently not required to comply with,” 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. “The provisions of most concern include non-discrimination provisions related to sexual orientation and gender identity which could create religious freedom issues for religious providers. “

Mr Manchin raised the issue during a recent closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, noting that the church and other faith-based organizations play a crucial role in caring for many families in West Virginia, according to a person familiar with his comments.

Mr Manchin argued that a little funding would go a long way to helping religiously affiliated institutions provide quality education for kindergarten children, the person said, and insisted that they be eligible for all. funds available. Her position found broad agreement among other Democratic senators in the room, said two people familiar with the private discussion who described it on condition of anonymity. Democrats did not go into the finer details of the dispute during their discussion, they said.

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

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone on the basis of “an individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” It exempted religious groups and faith-based organizations, but the law did not mention whether such provisions could be applied if the groups accepted federal funding.

President George W. Bush, through a series of executive orders, has made it easier for churches and other faith-based organizations to receive federal funds while bypassing some anti-discrimination laws.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Orthodox Union want these practices to remain in place. In recent days, they have argued members of Congress that they cannot accept money to run preschool or child care programs unless the bill specifically exempts them from anti-discrimination laws, such as Title IX, which protects against gender discrimination, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, which they say may require expensive upgrades in old buildings, including places of worship.

“We appreciate that the main Democrats in the Senate have told us they are okay with including churches and synagogues, but the devil is indeed in the details,” said Nathan J. Diament, director of public policies of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. . “Right now, given the way the bill is drafted, there are details that will deter or even make it impossible for faith-based providers to participate. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: Faith groups push to end mandates from Biden's childcare plan
Faith groups push to end mandates from Biden's childcare plan
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