The Wisconsin senator called his idea an 'elegant solution' to the child care crisis and 'a win-win-win situation across the board.'
Weeks after saying affordable child care is not society's problem, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) proposed a solution to the ongoing crisis: make working moms who receive government assistance provide it.
In a Tuesday telephone town hall, a constituent asked Johnson if he had any solutions to the challenges of providing child care for Wisconsin's working parents given his stated opposition to President Joe Biden's affordable care proposals.
"I know that you're opposed to federal funds that would supplement the cost of child care," the caller said. "Could you offer some possible solutions for supporting these small business owners to stay open?"
"First of all, I'm not necessarily opposed to federal funds to help people," Johnson responded. "What I don't want to see is another federal government program, because those programs come with all kinds of strings attached and I think we already have a problem with, you know, our educational system indoctrinating our children, so I kind of want — I don't want to get the federal government involved in that aspect of our lives as well."
He then suggested a different path forward. "In terms of child care, I understand why we prohibit moms from being in government-funded daycare for children. But to me, when you have mothers on different kinds of public assistance, to me, an elegant solution would be, why don't we have them help staff child care for other mothers?" he said. "I think there's an imaginative solution here that could be a win-win-win situation across the board: a win for taxpayers, a win for mothers, a win for kids."
Johnson acknowledged that making working mothers care for their own children in addition to other people's children could pose problems and would require changes to Wisconsin state law. But he added: "There's got to be an imaginative solution where moms who are getting assistance can be involved in the child care centers for other moms and just be a cooperative type of arrangement here. We haven't really explored that."
This isn't the first time Johnson has proposed this idea. He made the same suggestion six years ago.
"Let single moms actually work in daycare to support each other," the Wisconsin Republican said in a 2016 radio interview. "We have prohibitions against that, providing daycare for a facility that has your children in it. I think we need to reduce some of these policies. Let's work smart, let's rethink all of these programs, all the laws. Just about everything has got to be rethought."
As the economy has reopened under Biden, millions of Americans have returned to work. But lack of available child care has kept millions more from doing so. According to the most recent data last month from the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, more than 5 million parents said their main reason for not working was caring for children who weren't in school or daycare.
In January, a reporter asked Johnson how parents could go back to work with a lack of affordable child care at their disposal.
"People decide to have families and become parents. That's something they need to consider when they make that choice. I've never really felt it was society's responsibility to take care of other people's children," Johnson replied. "If you're proposing that the federal government incur even more deficit spending to provide child care for parents? I mean, I don't see how that's a solution at all."
Like every other Republican in Congress, Johnson opposed Biden's Build Back Better plan, which would have invested $400 billion in affordable child care and free pre-K education. The White House estimated its passage would have saved the majority of American families "more than half of their spending on child care."
Johnson, whose estimated net worth in 2018 was more than $39 million, is one of the richest members of Congress. He is currently seeking reelection to a third six-year Senate term despite promising not to run again.
Wisconsin Democrats slammed Johnson's latest comments.
"Ron Johnson couldn't care less about Wisconsin parents and children," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Philip Shulman in a press statement. "Instead of offering meaningful solutions that would lower costs, he’s pushing a self-serving agenda that harms Wisconsin families."
"The pandemic has effectively set women’s participation in the workforce back a generation, and Ron Johnson’s solution to the child care crisis — on Equal Pay Day no less — is to add to their burden," Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Johnson this November, said in a statement. "In the Senate, I'll put Wisconsinites first and fight for affordable child care for every working family."
"We have a full-blown child care crisis and a record number of moms getting knocked out of the workforce. There are commonsense solutions to these problems, but Ron Johnson's 'imaginative' idea would punish moms and drag us back to the 1950s," Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who is also running for the seat, said in a statement. "I have news for this guy: We're not going back."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.