Agudath Israel of America has joined other faith-based groups in continuing to communicate concerns over the Universal Pre-K and Child Care provisions of the proposed Build Back Better Act. The BBB legislation is a top priority for the Biden Administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress hopes to pass the legislation before the end of the session. 

In a letter to Senate HELP Committee Patty Murray (D-WA), and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), over 20 national organizations representing various religious denominations, school groups, and charities serving millions of Americans, make a compelling case that, under the current House-passed provisions, religious providers would effectively be cut out of the new UPK and Child Care programs, despite assurances regarding their inclusion. That is because, the letter points out, of the way the programs will be financed and the new requirements to which providers will be subject. 

“As is so often the case in legislation, the devil is in the details,” observed Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director. “This bill has language that includes the participation of religious entities but then insists on forms of funding and other requirements that end up restricting that participation.” 

For example, under the bill’s provisions, UPK and child care programs run by shuls, yeshivas and day schools, among other religious entities, would have to secularize their programs, as well as being prohibited from having boys-only or girls-only programs – intolerable conditions for many providers and parents. Agudath Israel and the other groups have suggested legislative ways to maintain inclusion of religious providers while avoiding such pitfalls.   

“Agudath Israel has been proud of the leading role it played in the original child care legislation, and in other programs since, in ensuring that religious providers are able to participate and serve their communities without compromising their religious character and mission,” noted Rabbi Cohen. “Passing these provisions without amendment would be a devastating setback, as UPK has the potential of being a boon to our families, and as the current Child Care program has already proven itself an effective and much needed form of assistance to those in our community struggling to make ends meet.” 

The letter concludes by affirming the belief of the faith-based community that parents should be able to choose the best care and environment for their children, and include the full range of providers without limitation.