Congresswoman Jackie Walorski joins the podcast to discuss her new bill, The Working Families Childcare Access Act. The focus is on choice and flexibility as the main components of increasing access to child care and paid leave and provides an alternative to the one-size-fits-all approach that is often touted as the way forward. We discuss the details and why the Congresswoman thinks it’s the answer to improve our economy and benefit women and families.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski represents Indiana’s 2nd District in Congress. Serving on the House Ways and Means Committee and as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support, she is focused on helping small businesses and manufacturers grow, expanding opportunities for American workers to succeed, and empowering individuals and families to thrive. She also serves as the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, working to hold members of the House to the highest standards of transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct.


Beverly Hallberg:

And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg, and on today’s episode it’s an honor to have Congresswoman Jackie Walorski with us today to discuss her new bill, The Working Families Childcare Access Act.

This piece of legislation focuses on choice and flexibility as the main components of increasing access to childcare and paid leave, and provides a needed alternative to the one size fits all approach that is often touted as the way forward. We’ll get into the details of it and why the Congresswoman thinks it’s the answer to improve our economy and benefit women and families.

But before we bring her on, a little bit more about the Congresswoman. Jackie Walorski represents Indiana’s 2nd District in Congress, serving on the House Ways and Means Committee as the ranking member of the subcommittee on worker and family support. She is focused on helping small businesses and manufacturers grow, expanding opportunities for American workers to succeed and empowering individuals and families to thrive. She also serves as the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, working to hold members of the House to the highest standards of transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct. Congresswoman, it is a pleasure to have you on She Thinks.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here, thank you so much for the invitation.

Beverly Hallberg:

Well, my first question for you is, are childcare and paid leave considered infrastructure in your mind? Because that’s what we keep hearing is that they’re part of infrastructure. What do you say?

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Well, I think they are. If we look at the data where we are today coming out now and the post-COVID kind of phase that we’re in, we lost two million workers. We lost two million women workers in the workplace because of COVID. Women shouldered a lot of the bearing of taking care of children, taking care of aging parents and those kinds of things, so when we talk about paid time off, when we talk about childcare, absolutely.

When we’re talking about getting COVID behind us, we’re talking about getting all the bad things that happened with COVID. Not just a disease, but all those things that came along with that. So, we’ve got to get two million women back in this workforce and knowing what they’re doing besides working and trying to caregive for those in their homes and in their extended families, this is infrastructure.

There’s highways and bridges, but when you come to these issues of labor when it’s impossible to hire right now because of the extended unemployment, you better believe this is infrastructure. These are the building blocks that we are actually going to build the roads and bridges on, got to have workers.

Beverly Hallberg:

That two million number is really astounding. COVID definitely has negatively impacted women in so many ways, and like you were saying, so many of them having to leave the workforce to go back to take care of the children who were at home, sometimes even teaching them. That’s why we wanted to bring you on to talk about the piece of legislation that you are working on even prior to COVID. It’s called The Working Families Childcare Access Act. Tell me a little bit about the origins of it and whether or not this is a bipartisan piece of legislation.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Well, I will tell you. Historically when you’re talking about paid time off, family leave and childcare, these are always bipartisan issues, always. Historically when you look back, anything we’ve ever moved into federal level that deals with families, anything that has actually lasted in this country, it has to be bipartisan. So, I started working on this a couple years ago when I got on the Ways and Means Committee. It just made sense, that working families, I think it’s important for them to have access to employer sponsored childcare.

So, we started looking around and saying, “Well, let’s say what we don’t want to do. We don’t want to mandate this, we don’t want to put a burden on small business, we don’t want the government to come in with a one size fits all. So how about if we look at the FSA plans, the flexible spending accounts that a lot of people have, let’s retool that and allow people to save and put that money away pre-tax to help pay for childcare.”

Only about 1% of taxpayers take advantage of these tax advantage savings tools. So when we pass this stuff in D.C., we always think it’s the latest, greatest thing that everybody’s going to be so excited about, but only 1% of the people actually use their FSA account in ways that really meaningfully impact them. So, families traditionally have only been able to contribute $5,000 a year, not nearly enough to cover the average cost of childcare. So the funds can be used right now for only a very, very narrow set of qualified expenses, and then they’re forfeited, which doesn’t help any family.

So, my bill would improve that access to the program by increasing the contribution limit so you could contribute up to $15,000 per year. So we would triple that, we would allow those funds to roll over at the end of the year, and we would expand the eligibility of those expenses. So when you think about eliminating the burdensome use it or lose it rule, I mean, how many families know what’s going to happen every single year. When you get into years like COVID when you have the unpredictable happen, and then what do you do?

Well, you know what? You need to be able to have saved additional money ahead of time, and you need to be able to let those funds roll over into a better year. I think that’s what we’re seeing right now is, my goodness, if families would have had a chance pre-COVID to really get and do what this bill allows, we would be in a lot better shape than we are right now when it comes to these issues of childcare.

This would also give parents more flexibility to use their FSA funds for things like adoption. This is real world adoption. Things that families plan for a long time, and this would have allowed them to put a lot of that pre-tax money away and help that family save for something as important as adoption in this country. Tutoring, sports activities, art and music programs, things that are all about the quality of life for your child.

Then again, think about have we been able to do that going through COVID? The quality of life of these kids and these students would have been so much bigger and better than what we just saw coming out of this dark, dark, COVID 15 months fight. Then the fourth thing of what it does, it raises the dependent age limit from 13 to 15, which I think just makes sense in today’s culture.

So historically, yes, these are all bipartisan. This year, no, the Democrats have not even entertained it, they will not bring it down, they insist on having a one approach, one size fits all. I think it’s unfortunate, because if there’s ever a time we should be unified in getting our country back together, getting COVID in the rear view mirror and jetting into the future, it’s now. This is the best time to do that, so I think it’s a really important bill.

I’m doing what I can, our leadership’s doing what they can to continue to work with our Democrat colleagues to try to get this in a bill so that families have real tangible money, real things to do, and the Democrats wouldn’t have to put so many billions of dollars into childcare when we still have $50 billion allocated from the original first bill that’s never been spent.

So I think if we don’t start looking at common sense approaches here, we’re not only not going to get ahead, but what’s going to happen with these approaches that are coming down that are extremely partisan, is they’re all going to be paid for by taxpayers. I don’t think taxpayers got that note yet in this country.

So they’re going to find out fairly quickly that none of this is free, and when the government spends trillions of dollars, they’re going to recoup that off the backs of the very people that they gave the benefits to, and I think it’s horribly unfair. I think we can do this in a way that makes sense and allows families to save and families to plan individual plans and not one size fits all handout from the government.

Beverly Hallberg:

I really think one of the keywords that you said is flexibility, and you mentioned how COVID has underscored the need for flexibility, because we can’t predict the future and we don’t know always what’s around the corner, so having flexibility makes sense for families. Yet as you’re mentioning, there is a one size fits all approach that the Biden administration is putting forward. When you talk to those who are in favor of that, or who look at that and say it sounds great. What in your opinion is the problem of a one size fits all approach? What does that mean to the family who appreciates flexibility?

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Well, I think the reality is this, is that, and I’ll speak for my state, the state of Indiana. Our kids have been back in school since last September and still there are states that haven’t even reopened and they don’t even have their kids back in school. So, I do understand the need for an immediate shot in the arm of some of these states and some of these parents not being able to work because they can’t get their kids in school, and it just continues to go in a circle.

But I’ll tell you, the advantage of being able to make your own decision allows … in my district, I have double income households, so I have men and women working for the most part, middle class, blue collar, and it’s really important for them to be able to have the flexibility. For example, in sports, their child wants to be in sports, their child is gifted in sports and is looking at long-term success and wants to be involved in something at a younger grade tutoring.

The child’s behind, I look at COVID right now and how many of these schools are going to have millions of kids behind, and the things that they could have been used for are so impactful for the quality of life and for how parents see the need, not the federal government. The federal government, I mean, the last thing you want involved in your life deciding how you’re going to pay for things is the federal government, because they’re going to recoup their money from you. Whether it comes out of your left pocket or your right pocket, they’re coming to get the money. So, I think that the strategic targeted money that parents understand how they want to invest in their child makes all the difference, and I think it should be priority one when it comes to how they’re cared for.

Beverly Hallberg:

I think so much about the one size fits all plan as well in addition to all of that. It’s either you put your child in daycare or you have no hope, or you either take all this paid leave or you go back to work, there isn’t a lot in the middle. Like you were saying, the school sports, the different options, it gives so much more flexibility to use your money in different ways, which I think is fantastic.

One element of this, I’ve heard you talk about this piece of legislation before, and something that stood out to me was also you’re focused on what this means for businesses. So I am a small business owner, I have four full-time employees and things like mandatory paid leave and anything the government mandates on my business causes our expenses to go up, even though my business offers very generous benefits to employees to the understandable individual needs that they have. Your type of proposal, this piece of legislation, did you have businesses in mind as a part of this as well, not just families?

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Oh, for sure. So, I’ve had many conversations over the last few years with the NFIB, National Federation of Independent Businesses that advocates for small business around the country, times millions of small businesses enrolled in that. I walked step-by-step with them, because my concern was I did not want this mandatory, there’s just no way. Maybe a couple years ago when people thought about it, they thought about it being a noble lofty cause, well, it may have been, but the reality in today’s world is, A, main street small business and medium-sized companies in this country can’t hire, they can’t hire in my district, so we got to get people back to work before we even have to start worrying about paid time late.

We’ve got to get them employed, we’ve got to get our companies back up and running and stable with some certainty into the future so they know how to plan before they start looking at how can I give my employees paid time off. In Biden’s plan, it’s 12 weeks of paid time off, and I don’t have very many companies in my district right now that are even stable enough and have enough employees back to even be able to comprehend that program, especially if it’s mandatory.

So, I worked with all these organizations. I worked with private insurance companies and looked at ways that we could present a pay time off plan that wasn’t mandatory, but that would allow them to pool across state lines like we’ve talked about before with healthcare, so the main street mom and pop that has three employees is able to pool with a company that might have 300 employees and there’s a fair way to break that cost down. Not in a mandatory way, but for every company that wanted to opt into that, find ways to continue to sliver down those regulations and try to give maximum flexibility to the employer.

Now I have a mandatory one size fits all, because if we keep stacking on top of our companies in a private business, they are just not going to recover. We’ll see an additional wave of loss of companies, especially small business that couldn’t keep up with the regulation from the federal government once they got their employees back.

Let me just throw this out here, because one of the things that is happening in my district, I know it’s all over the country, but I’m in my district, so I’ve been talking about it for the last couple of weeks, but it’s this issue of when you talk about childcare and paid time off, you have to back up and look at what’s happening right now with this extended unemployment. We literally have a labor shortage.

So in my district, you can’t even go past a business, even if it’s a landscape service that has two employees that are hiring. I’ve got trucks of residential furnace companies, insulation companies, heating, cooling, you name it, and their trucks are shuttered in their driveways because there’s nobody to drive them. Landscaping companies, a year ahead, with the clients they have, and they don’t have anybody to drive the trucks. I mean, it is story, after story, after story. So if we don’t pull together and change our policy on something as simple as unemployment, we’re never going to get to these two issues of childcare and paid time off, because of the lack of employees and the closing of more businesses.

So, we’re just at a really critical time, Beverly, when people need to be thinking about, hey, it’s great. I’m going to get paid time off and I’m going to get childcare and I’m going to get extended unemployment. I’m going to stay home with my family. But when the tide turns and the cost of this starts coming back on people’s pockets, between that and inflation, I don’t think folks in my district are going to have any disposable income left by next summer. They won’t be able to compete with this price tag.

Beverly Hallberg:

Even on top of everything that you’re saying, which is absolutely true and sad at the same time, is also the discussion about increasing the corporate tax rate, which does impact small businesses. So it’s also if they’re trying to dig out of COVID, trying find people to hire, get back on their feet. At the same time, there’s talk about raising the corporate tax rate by quite a few percentage points, which of course is devastating to businesses just trying to make ends meet.

So, I want to shift the conversation a little bit to that direction. Is there any movement on Capitol Hill in a bipartisan way to talk about what I consider the backbone of this country, small businesses, and trying to help them out with all these different factors that we just discussed? Do we see any real effort to think about them and not just to think about a narrative that sells and that sounds good on paper, but that people will have to reap what would have sewn years later? Maybe not even years later, just a few months later.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Well, I haven’t heard a lot of that talk, and don’t forget, in the past we’ve worked these issues in a bipartisan way with the Democrats. They have not even brought us to the table. They’re doing this pretty much on their own, it’s been very partisan, it’s pretty much been what Pelosi says goes, and we’ve had no open door to even address these things.

So we’re doing it in the media in our districts, and that’s where we’re having an opportunity to talk about when you’ve got small business just trying to survive right now and trying to get out of COVID, you cannot add these regulations on top of them and expect them to be able to survive and thrive, it’s just not going to happen.

When you’re talking paid time off, in the Democrats’ proposal, they’re going to raise payroll tax up to 3% on every single employee. You sit there and think about they’re going to raise payroll tax 3% here, quarter of a percent here, a quarter of a percent here, another percent there on top of what the cost of goods in this country are going to end up costing after these corporate rates go funneling through those companies and get passed on to the customer, inflation with gas and groceries starting to go up through the roof.

I mean, we’re really looking at some hard times here and that’s why I think there’s got to be a change of mind in Congress, there’s got to be a different direction, we’ve got to work together. Right now, we’re protecting those that are going to pay the bill on what the Democrats are spending. There’s been no conversation about making it fair, making it simple, it’s just been about literally moving multiple trillions of dollars out the door.

Which, I think, interestingly, Beverly, here we are, we just came through COVID, coming through COVID, and really in the last six months, when COVID started, we talked about multiple billions of dollars for PPE, for the loan programs, PPP, we talked of all that stuff. Here we are, not even six months into the new year, and we have gone from talking about billions of dollars to trillions of dollars. I will bet you, there are very few people in this country that can wrap their mind around what the value of a trillion is, let alone multiple trillion in less than six months. What we’re doing is unprecedented and very risky.

Beverly Hallberg:

Yeah, and what those tangible impacts are going to mean to everyone. Of course the narrative is always it’s only going to impact the wealthiest in this country, but as you were saying, that has to be passed along. First of all, it’s going to end up hitting people who are not considered the wealthiest, but it’s going to hit everybody in costs of groceries and gas. Which as you were saying, we’re already seeing increase in prices go up dramatically.

So we’re talking a little bit of doom and gloom here, so here is my question for you. For those who are listening to this and are equally concerned as you are about this, so people in your district, but also people across the country, those who listen to this podcast, what can they do? I think a lot of people feel like it’s helpless, that there’s not much that they can do to try to get the economy back on track. What do you say to them? We know you’re fighting, how can the average citizen fight?

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Well, I dropped a couple of bills that I think are just common sense bills that will help improve the situation. I dropped a bill that basically pays people to go back to work. $1,200 bonus if they go back to work by the end of July. The Democrats won’t hear it, they won’t bring it down, we’re just trying to get people back into the workforce. I dropped a bill in the middle of COVID last year and I dropped it again this year allowing retirees to go back to work without the social security penalty, and just common sense bills that would help.

So I think to most Americans who are very frustrated, I think it’s just important that they connect at the grassroots level. If they’re in a state that has a democratic lawmaker, probably a good idea to call them, because right now they’re the ones that are at the table making the decisions, casting those votes, and I think they need to hear from the folks in their districts. In mine, you bet I’m out there talking to my district all the time, keeping them up to date on every single bill that we dropped that would make sense and be an alternative to this real high-risk spending that we see happening right now.

So people shouldn’t give up, they shouldn’t lose hope, because I’m telling you, inside of every American there is passion and inside of every one of us, we know what our nation needs, we eventually get there. I think this has been a much tougher time than a lot of folks have seen before, I think COVID’s played a big part of it, but I think the message is don’t give up, communicate with your lawmakers.

Every lawmaker in this country needs to be communicated with from folks in their districts letting them know that this is not their plan. They don’t agree with that plan, they agree with the common sense plan that doesn’t balance this on the back of working people. That’s exactly what’s happening. But I never give up, Beverly. I mean, we’ve got the answer in this country. It’s hard work, it’s doing what we’ve done to make this nation great. We’re still the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

Beverly Hallberg:

We thank you so much for your hard work. You’re working in a lot of different areas, but again, the piece of legislation we discussed is called The Working Families Childcare Access Act, which is a great way to have choice and flexibility when it comes to paid time off and also childcare. We appreciate your effort on that, we appreciate effort in so many areas and also for joining us on She Thinks today. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, thank you so much for being here.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski:

Thank you very much.

Beverly Hallberg:

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