Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, with most of the country's attention focused on the war in Iraq, important issues at home are falling through the cracks. Today I rise to talk about one of the needs of working moms and dads and their children--child care. We have a shortage of childcare in this country, and it is a problem for our families, a problem for our businesses, and a problem for our economy. The Census Bureau estimates that there are approximately 24 million school age children with parents who are in the workforce or pursuing education, and the numbers are growing. There has been a 43 percent increase in dual-earner families and single parent families over the last half a century. As parents leave the home for work and education, the need for quality child care in America continues to increase.

As the Ranking Democrat of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I think we can foster the establishment and expansion of existing child care businesses through the Small Business Administration, SBA. Today with Senators Harkin, Landrieu, Pryor, Lieberman, Daschle, Bingaman, and Johnson. I am introducing the Child Care Lending Pilot Act of 2003, a bill to create a three-year pilot that allows small , non-profit child care providers to access financing through SBA's 504 loans.

There is a real need to help finance the purchase of buildings, to expand existing facilities and improve the conditions of established centers to meet the demand for child care. It is appropriate to provide financing through the 504 program because it was created to spur economic development and rebuild communities, and child care is critical to businesses and their employees. Financing through 504 could spur the establishment and growth of child care businesses because the program requires the borrower to put down only between 10 and 20 percent of the loan, making the investment more affordable. Another advantage of 504 loans is that they have terms of up to 20 years, with fixed interest rates, allowing small businesses to keep their monthly payments low and predictable.

As anyone with children knows, quality childcare comes at a very high cost to a family, and it is especially burdensome to low-income families. The Children's Defense Fund has estimated that child care for a 4-year-old in a child care center averages $4,000 to $6,000 per year in cities and states around the Nation. In all but one state, the average annual cost of child care in urban area child care centers is more than the average annual cost of public college tuition.

These high costs make access to child care all but non-existent for low-income families. While some states have made efforts to provide grants and loans to assist childcare businesses, more must be done to increase the supply of childcare and improve the quality of programs for low-income families. According to the Child Care Bureau, state and federal funds are so insufficient that only one out of 10 children in low-income working families who are eligible for assistance under federal law receives it.

For parts of the country, when affordable child care is available, it is provided through non-profit child care businesses. I formed a task force in my home state of Massachusetts to study the state of child care, and of the many important findings, we discovered that more than 60 percent of the child care providers are non-profit and that there is a real need to help them finance the purchase of buildings or expand their existing space. Child care in general is not a high-earning industry, and the owners don't have spare money lying around. Asking centers to charge less or cut back on employees is not the way to make child care more affordable for families and does not serve the children well. An adequate staff is needed to make sure children receive proper supervision and support. Furthermore, if centers are asked to lower their operating costs in order to lower costs to families, the safety and quality of the child care provided would be in jeopardy.

I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this legislation so non-profit childcare providers can access funds to start new centers or expand and improve upon existing centers. As we have done in Massachusetts, Senators could bring together 504 lenders, childcare providers not for-profit and non-profit--and the state department of child welfare to facilitate the increase of childcare providers in their states.

As common sense tells us, and the child advocates if we listen, there is no magic bullet to addressing the shortage of safe and affordable child care in this country--it takes coordinated and complementary efforts to make a real difference. This is as much a child welfare issue as a workforce issue, and it makes sense to leverage one of SBA's effective resources to try and contribute to making a positive difference. I argue--we argue--that allowing non-profit child care centers to receive SBA loans can increase the availability of child care in the United States. Non-profit child care centers provide the same quality of care as the for-profit centers, and non-profit centers often serve our nation's neediest communities. I hope that my colleagues will recognize the vital role that early education plays in the development of fine minds and productive citizens and realize that in this great nation, child care should be available to all families in all income brackets.

I ask unanimous consent that several letters of support be printed in the record. These letters demonstrate that this is a good investment and good for our country.