Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, we have 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 childcare in America continues to increase.

As Chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I think we can foster the establishment and expansion of existing child care businesses through the Small Business Administration. Today with Senators Harkin and Landrieu, I am introducing, the Child Care Lending Pilot Act, a bill to create a four-year pilot that allows small, non-profit child care businesses to access financing through SBA's 504 loans.

Non-profit child care small businesses already have access to financing through the SBA's microloan program, which many of us made possible through legislation in 1997. Microloans help with working capital and the purchase of some equipment, but there is also a need to help finance the purchase of buildings, expand existing facilities to meet child care demand, or improve facilities. 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.

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 estimates that childcare for a 4-year-old in a childcare 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 childcare in urban area childcare 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 childcare 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 childcare provided would be in jeopardy.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation so non-profit childcare providers can access funds to start new centers or expand and improve upon existing centers.

Allowing non-profit childcare centers to receive SBA loans will be the first step toward improving the availability of childcare in the United States. Non-profit childcare centers provide the same quality of care as the for-profit centers, and non-profit centers often serve our nation's most needy 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, childcare should be available to all families in all income brackets.

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