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Biden administration takes aim at popular childcare program

OpinionBiden administration takes aim at popular childcare program

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The Biden administration claims it wants to improve life for working mothers. But many of the policies it proposes would do the exact opposite. Nowhere is this clearer than in the State Department’s newly proposed changes to a long-beloved childcare option for working parents, the au pair program.  

For decades, American families with young children have taken advantage of the popular au pair program. In exchange for providing accommodation, regular meals and a weekly stipend, families receive reliable and responsive childcare from a foreign national.  

This voluntary cultural exchange program is a win-win for au pairs and families alike. Au pairs get the opportunity to visit America for up to two years, develop their English and experience our culture. In addition to enriching their children by exposing them to different languages and cultures, parents get more affordable and flexible in-home childcare. 

4 SISTERS GIVE BIRTH WITHIN 4 MONTHS OF EACH OTHER AND NOW CELEBRATE BABIES’ FIRST HOLIDAY TOGETHER

But under the seemingly noble guise of strengthening labor protections for au pairs, the Biden administration is proposing to reduce the allowable working hours and doubling or even tripling their pay, costing families an additional $10,000 to $20,000 each year. 

Kelsey Bolar's children ride in a wagon pulled by her au pair.

Kelsey Bolar’s children ride in a wagon pulled by her au pair, who is from Brazil. (With permission from Kelsey Bolar)

Since the current administration took office, record inflation has already left households in deep financial strain, with “most adults” saying “their financial situation is a source of stress, including 36% who say it is a major source of stress.”  

Recent data found the average childcare payment has far exceeded inflation, up 32% from 2019. At a time when families are already struggling to afford childcare, why is the Biden administration proposing to make a popular option more unaffordable?  

The administration claims that updates to the program’s pay structure are necessary “to ensure au pairs have similar protections as those afforded to domestic workers.” To accomplish this, it proposes adopting a confusing model that would pay au pairs according to the highest applicable minimum wage among the federal, state and local minimum rates.  

Minimum wage laws are meant to ensure American workers have enough money to pay for their living expenses. But as part of the program, host families cover the au pair’s living expenses — housing, meals, transportation, car insurance, cell phones and other miscellaneous items. 

Families also pay program fees costing around $10,000 each year, which cover the au pair’s airfare, health insurance and more. The au pair’s weekly stipend is meant to be pocket money for discretionary expenses and doesn’t reflect the true benefits afforded to them. 

The Biden administration admits its proposed compensation model could make states with lower minimum wage standards like Wyoming less attractive for au pairs, “contributing to diminished diversity and equity in the program.” It also admits that some host families “may be priced out of the program.”  

Both State Department and sponsor surveys “indicate broad satisfaction with the au pair program among current au pairs and alumni,” begging the question: Why fix what isn’t broken? 

Among other proposed changes are a host of complicated and bureaucratic regulations, including a hard limit of 40 work hours per week. Currently, families are allotted up to 45 hours per week, covering the 40-hour workweek plus a typical commute. Taking away those additional five hours is discriminatory towards parents who work in-person, as remote work is a mostly upper-class phenomenon.  

Kelsey Bolar's three children.

Kelsey Bolar’s three children.

For parents who work from home but like to use those additional hours for nights or occasional weekends, the reduction strips them of a unique and appealing benefit of the au pair program.  

Slashing the number of hours au pairs are allowed to work while significantly increasing their weekly stipend would dramatically alter the cost-benefit analysis for families like mine who participate in the program.  

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The changes would push us toward alternative childcare arrangements that come with fewer regulations and greater flexibility. This could potentially mean the end of the program entirely, which would be a loss for families, au pairs and the goals set forth in the Fulbright-Hays Act. 

Each year, thousands of young women complete their time as au pairs and return to their home countries with experiences, friends and memories made in the U.S. As these women become de facto cultural ambassadors for our country, ending the au pair program, or significantly gutting it, would come with a great cost for American diplomacy. 

But under the seemingly noble guise of strengthening labor protections for au pairs, the Biden administration is proposing to reduce the allowable working hours and doubling or even tripling their pay, costing families an additional $10,000 to $20,000 each year.  

During a time when global cross-cultural understanding is in short supply, the Biden administration should be searching for more ways to facilitate warm, family-like relationships between people of different backgrounds — not dismantling those that successfully exist.  

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The Biden administration and other Democrats talk a big talk when it comes to supporting working families. But they are not walking the walk.  

Lawmakers should seek to expand choices and opportunities for working moms, so that we can contribute to the labor force and design the work-life balance we need to succeed, both in our careers and in raising our kids. Parents who work will always put our children first, but under this proposal, the Biden administration is putting us — and our families — last. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM KELSEY BOLAR

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