A Maryland Politician Has A Radical Idea That Could Make Raising Kids Cheaper

"Working moms don’t have lobbyists."

Democrat Alec Ross has an unusually fresh proposal for solving the exorbitant costs of child care: lend parents money to pay for child care and then have them pay it back.

The candidate for Maryland's 2018 gubernatorial primary insists it's not a loan, though on the surface it may look like one. Instead of putting parents into debt, though, Ross says the plan will be structured in a way that lets parents manage the cost of child care over a longer period of time, rather than having to pay the cost outright during a child's youth.

"Child care is one of the most important, least discussed public policy problems," Ross told A Plus. "It tends to be because working moms don't have lobbyists. There is no powerful constituency out there representing working moms even though the affordability and availability of child care is a massive, massive, massive problem." 



Alec Ross
Alec Ross

Ross, an entrepreneur who was the Senior Advisor for Innovation to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is also a father of three children. At one point, his wife Felicity took eight years out of the workforce to help take care of their kids. Despite the major economic impact it had on their family, Ross says he knows they were privileged to be able to make that choice. 

"Most parents have a choice between staying on the job and spending all their money on child care or leaving the work force," Ross said. "This plan is a way of getting people to be economically productive without taking all the economic value of their work and just throwing it into child care."

Should Ross' plan go into effect, it would cost $55 million a year, subsidize preschool for poorer families and help give middle class families a stream of cash starting at the birth of their child. In return, the parents would pay back a small percentage of their income until the child graduates high school. 

Despite running as a Democrat, and despite the plan having whiffs of socialism, Ross says it's a plan that should appeal to both the left and the right. For fiscal conservatives, he's hoping they'll see how many people this plan would keep in the work force and therefore keep paying taxes. For liberals and socialists, he's hoping they understand this is a way to make child care more affordable without increasing taxes.

"The real trick here is not technical, it's political," Ross said. "To the socialists, I say we can't just jack up taxes every time we get a new idea. And to the conservatives, I say have some compassion and have some business sense."

Alec Ross
Alec Ross

But one thing Ross won't do is downplay the importance of the issue:

"One of the important byproducts of our making quality child care more affordable and accessible is we'll have fewer dead kids," he said. "That's a crass way of putting it, but it's also a completely accurate way of putting it."

Ross noted that a number of Maryland children have died in the past few years after being put into "unaccredited, basement, off-the-book child care centers." 

It's hard to blame parents looking for more options. Child care can reach up to 67 percent of a single mother's income if she has two children. The average annual cost of child care is $14,726 in Maryland, according to Ross's office. The average cost of college tuition is just $9,163 in the state of Maryland.

To help fix those cost problems, Ross's plan would use about $35 million of the $55 million on a voucher program for families making 50 percent less than Maryland's median income. The other $20 million would be used in the "income-share" agreement that families making $85,000 or less a year could use. Ross described the realm that parents making $30,000-$90,000 inhabit  — for whom child care is unaffordable but nonetheless don't qualify for subsidies from most government programs — as the "valley of death."

In one example provided to A Plus, Ross said his hope was that a Maryland family who couldn't afford spending $11,000 a year on child care but could afford to spend $8,000 a year would enter the income share program and pay the $3,000 difference out over a longer period of time. During an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Ross said he hoped private investors would also help fund the program. While he couldn't provide specific data to prove his plan would pay for itself, he did point to scholarship tuition programs like the one at Purdue University that have turned profits.

"One thing that pisses off taxpayers is that they pay all these taxes and they feel like government doesn't provide enough value for their taxes," Ross said. "And what then happens is people start fighting back against the government taking on critical roles in society. I think it's reasonable to simultaneously want the government to perform better and also try to make sure that government is meeting more of the needs of its citizens."

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