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Sen. Ron Johnson calls for mothers on government assistance to staff child care centers

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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has called for mothers receiving public assistance to help other mothers by staffing the child care centers taking care of their children.

And he said so — for the second time since 2016 — despite Wisconsin law prohibiting state subsidy payments from going to a certified child care provider where an employee’s child receives care.

“When you have mothers on different kinds of public assistance, to me, an elegant solution would be, why don’t we have them help staff child care for other mothers?” he said Tuesday during a telephone town hall.

Since Russia annexed Crimea and interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has walked a fine line between Republican leaders’ praise of Russia and what he has considered his long support for Ukraine.

“I think there’s an imaginative solution here,” the Oshkosh Republican continued, adding that his idea would be a win for taxpayers, mothers and children.

Across the country, child care centers have been facing staffing shortages. The median wage for child care workers nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $25,460 per year or $12.24 per hour. The average wage that child care workers make in Wisconsin is $7.50 to $13 an hour, which for a 40-hour work week puts a family of four at or below the 2022 federal poverty rate.

“Ron Johnson couldn’t care less about Wisconsin parents and children,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Philip Shulman said in a statement. “Instead of offering meaningful solutions that would lower costs, he’s pushing a self-serving agenda that harms Wisconsin families.”

His comments came in response to a caller asking for Johnson’s solution to help small businesses and, specifically, child care centers.

“I understand, you know, having a mother in charge of a bunch of kids plus her own kids, she may not provide the care to the other kids. Again, I understand the concern,” he said.

“There’s got to be an imaginative solution where moms who are getting assistance can be involved in the child care centers for other moms and just be a cooperative type of arrangement here,” he continued.

Johnson added that that idea hadn’t been explored yet, and said there are issues with it. But it wasn’t the first time he explored the idea.

In 2016, Johnson proposed the same solution to WIZM radio in La Crosse.

“We have prohibitions against that, providing day care for a facility that has your children in it,” he said. “I think we need to reduce some of these policies. Let’s work smart, let’s rethink all of these programs, all the laws. Just about everything has got to be rethought.”

The law restricting eligible recipients of child care subsidies was enacted after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2009 discovered day care providers collecting subsidies while watching each other’s children.

Schools allow it

In response to his call to action, Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning said Johnson believes the federal government exacerbates more problems than it solves, and wanted listeners to begin thinking outside the box.

“His suggestion was to look at Wisconsin’s law that prevents a child care provider from receiving funds if an employee’s child receives care,” she said. “He said he understood why that law is in place but suggested we revaluate it to see if there’s some way to create a win for children and parents. Why should child care centers be different than schools that allow teachers to teach at government-funded schools where their children attend?”

In response to Johnson’s proposal on Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said, “We have a full-blown child care crisis and a record number of moms getting knocked out of the workforce. There are commonsense solutions to these problems, but Ron Johnson’s ‘imaginative’ idea would punish moms and drag us back to the 1950s. I have news for this guy: We’re not going back.”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes said, “The pandemic has effectively set women’s participation in the workforce back a generation, and Ron Johnson’s solution to the child care crisis — on Equal Pay Day no less — is to add to their burden.”

Past statements

In January, Johnson said it shouldn’t be controversial to worry about “the federal government wanting to take greater control over your children,” amid the increased national debate around teaching about systemic racism in schools.

“What, does the federal government want to start indoctrinating our children even earlier?” he said.

His comments came after a late January interview with La Crosse TV station WKBT in which he said he has “never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

His comments refer to a subsidy for child care supported by Democrats and included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, which is currently stalled.

Johnson added that he’s OK with some federal programs supporting people who cannot support themselves, “but parents need to be responsible for their children.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson discussing issues at the Milwaukee Latino roundtable

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