What to Know
- The wait for the House child care center is estimated at three years.
- The Senate child care center waitlist for newborns is projected between 18 months and two years.
- The I-Team found the wait list for the 70 seats in the House child care center reached 175 in early 2018.
Parents working for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives face years-long waits for seats in the congressional child care centers and a mixed bag of policies for paid maternity leave, according to a review by the News4 I-Team.
The accommodations offered to young parents on Capitol Hill trail those offered by other private and government employers and risk faster turnover of talented staffers, according to a dozen employees and members of Congress who spoke with the I-Team.
The House and Senate child care centers, each of which is within walking distance of the Capitol and the largest congressional office buildings, offer several dozen slots for children of staff. The I-Team found the wait list for the 70 seats in the House child care center reached 175 in early 2018.
“You often hear Congress is an old boys club,” said former U.S. Senate counsel Michele Jawando. “So old boys club wasn’t necessarily thinking about child care.”
The wait for parents with newborns is estimated at three years. The Senate child care center waitlist for newborns is projected between 18 months and two years.
“The Senate day care and the House day care, they’re the golden egg. They’re the Willy Wonka golden ticket,” Jawando said.
Jawando said she failed to land a seat for one of her three daughters despite joining the waiting list. She said other child care options are much farther away from the office and less flexible for unpredictable congressional work schedules.
“If you have a spot in the Senate child care center, and you know you’re going to be working really late, you can still go and participate in the Halloween parade with your child,” she said. “That’s a great feeling.”
A June 2017 report from a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee acknowledges a “lengthy waitlist” and a need to expand the House child care center. The report said proposals to expand the program are under consideration but specified the project must be completed in a “fiscally responsible manner.”
Records from the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, which oversees the House child care center, said an expansion of the facility is estimated for completion in early 2019. Those records said the expansion is “long overdue.”
Former House committee staffer Anne Morris Reid said she successfully navigated the waitlist and secured a slot for her son in 2013 in part because of advice from colleagues that she join the wait list immediately upon return from her honeymoon.
“They told me when I got back that I should look into the waitlist and consider getting ourselves on the waitlist, and so I did,” Reid said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the length of the waitlist for the congressional child care facilities “is not acceptable.”
“But I think you would find the same in a lot of communities,” he said. “We have an issue here for our own employees, but it’s not just her on Capitol Hill. There is a real shortage of affordable child care.”
The Senate Sergeant at Arms, which oversees the Senate child care center, declined to answer questions about the program. The agency referred the I-Team to the manager of the child care center, who did not respond to multiple requests for information.
Congressional rules do not require U.S. House or Senate offices to offer paid maternity or paternity leave to staffers. Though the House Office of Compliance requires members of Congress to offer 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, policies for any paid maternity or paternity leave vary by office.
The I-Team surveyed 22 members of the U.S. House from Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia about their paid leave policies. Eight of the 22 responded to the survey, with a variety of answers. Several members’ offices said they offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new mothers and fathers. At least one member said the office offers 12 weeks of paid leave to mothers, six weeks of paid leave to fathers. A spokeswoman said one Virginia member of Congress offers six weeks paid leave to new parents. A spokeswoman for a Maryland congressman said the office offers paid leave, but only to employees who have worked 10 months on the job.
Rep. Barbara Comstock, who offers 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents, has co-sponsored new legislation requiring paid maternity and paternity leave for all federal employees, including congressional staff. Comstock (R-Va.) told the I-Team, “When you are competing with companies, they’re providing paid leave. To keep the talent with federal employees, we need to do the same.”
The legislation has garnered 78 co-sponsors, including more than a dozen Washington, D.C.-area members of Congress. It has been formally referred to the Committee on House Administration.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.