Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a pitch for her universal child care plan in an unexpected setting this week: a congressional hearing with the military's top personnel chiefs.
Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, laid out her vision to give all American families access to affordable child care during a Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing Wednesday. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps' personnel bosses were on Capitol Hill to testify about military career and family policies.
"I think it's great that any child of a military family has access to high-quality care at a price they can afford," Warren said. "... I believe every child in America should have that same kind of opportunity."
Warren, who formally announced her presidential bid earlier this month, said her plan to provide universal child care and early education to families across the country is based on the military's system. Her plan would cap families' child care fees at 7 percent of their annual income.
All children under the age of 5 could attend free or discounted care under her plan. The costs for Warren's program would be offset by a new proposed tax on "ultra-millionaires," which her campaign says would raise $2.75 trillion in 10 years.
About 200,000 children use the military's $800 million child care service, which employs about 23,000 workers, according to the Congressional Research Service. Military families' child care fees are based on their income, meaning those on the low end of the wage scale pay as little as $222 per month, while top earners owe closer to $1,000.
The Defense Department foots the rest of the bill.
It's not just the access and affordability of the military's child care system Warren said she wants to duplicate. It's also the high standards to which the military holds its day care providers.
"The military child care program is open to every military family regardless of rank," she said. "It has high standards and is designed to be affordable for every military family."
Ninety-five percent of the military's child care providers are nationally accredited, Warren said, compared to 11 percent on the civilian side.
The system isn't perfect, though. Thousands of kids are on wait lists to get into military child care centers, defense leaders told lawmakers last month. The demand for child care is greater than the services can currently provide.
The general and flag officers testifying Wednesday said funding to improve accessibility is vital to keeping the military ready to fight. The services ask a lot of troops, said Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Rocco, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Ensuring they have quality day care is just one way to help their families.
"When the family is happy and secure, [troops] are much more apt to work, and readiness is impacted in a positive way," Rocco said. "It's very helpful to the family members to know they've got quality, affordable child care on base where they're protected and secure."
Air Force Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, agreed.
"For retention, we have to do that," he added.
Other Americans deserve the same peace of mind, Warren said. Working professionals and students finishing their educations worry about their children's well-being too, she said. "They all need access to the kind of care you're making sure our military families have."