Bernie believes that all children deserve a clean environment, a quality education, affordable healthcare, and access to nutritious food. He has focused on the needs of children and working families throughout his career, and has encouraged investments in communities that are all essential to help children. This includes investments in schools, local health clinics, libraries, community centers, and playgrounds. 

Before beginning his political career, Bernie Sanders taught lower-income preschoolers in the Head Start program. From this experience, Bernie learned first-hand that children born into poverty and other difficult situations face daily struggles that need to be addressed so they can grow, learn and develop to their highest potential. Alleviating the impact of poverty, hunger, inadequate housing, and unsafe neighborhoods are all critical first steps that must be addressed so all children have the opportunity to lead happy and productive lives. Bernie believes that we can do that by reducing income inequality and providing access to the resources that parents, children, and working families need and deserve.

Affordable Child Care: Good child care is essential and far too costly. Every working family should have access to good, affordable child care.

Early Childhood Education: States should receive funding for universal pre-kindergarten programs and full-day kindergarten, as the early years are the most important stage in human development.

Safe Schools & Neighborhoods: All children should feel safe in their neighborhoods, at school, and feel safe walking to school.

Paid Family Leave: Bernie supports paid Family Leave so new parents can spend time with their newborn child during the first weeks and months of that baby’s life. 

Amber Alert: Bernie is a strong supporter of the Amber Alert program. The reason he voted against the bill was because it had unconstitutional riders attached, in particular sentencing provisions, that infringed on judicial powers and created mandatory sentencing which lead to mass incarceration of non violent offenders

Childhood Poverty: Bernie wants to address childhood poverty by expanding and increasing access to social safety net programs as well as addressing the root causes of economic inequity. 

Nutrition: Every child has the right to nutritious food regardless of their family’s economic status.

“At a time when nearly 60 percent of women are now in the workforce, we need a revolution in this country in terms of how we provide child care and Pre-K education. The bottom line is that we have got to make sure every family in America has the opportunity to send their kids to a high quality child-care and Pre-K program.” – Bernie Sanders

In the United States, 66.5 percent of women and 85.8 percent of men work more than 40 hours a week. While parents are at work someone else must look after their children and this is expensive. Currently many parents rely on babysitters, family members, friends and neighbors to care for their children. This can be stressful for children and place a strain on relationships. For some children the supervision they receive is inconsistent, of low quality or at times unsafe. Sometimes hard choices must be made because many parents cannot afford to take off from work, even to care for a sick child. Bernie believes that we should relieve the stress and uncertainty for families with young children by enacting a universal Pre-K and childcare program.

Affordable Child Care

“In a society with our resources, it is unconscionable that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives.” – Bernie 

Why do we need affordable child care?

Given that most American parents work long hours to provide for their family, access to high-quality, affordable childcare is an important issue for every parent. When families have access to reliable childcare, parents can be more productive at work and their children are more likely to succeed.

Seems reasonable. What’s the deal?

While speaking during a roundtable with the Every Child Matters Education Fund, Bernie called the state of American child care a “disaster”. His characterization is absolutely correct.

Currently, child care in the United States is extremely expensive. Couples spend 25.6% of their income on child care costs. Single parents pay 52.7% of their income to pay for child care.

A 2018 report by Child Care Aware® America found that child care is currently unaffordable in every state as well as the District Of Columbia.

Where do we stand compared to the rest of the world when it comes to providing affordable child care?

According to a 2016 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study, families in 30 wealthy nations spend, on average, about 15% of their net income on child care costs. In most of Western Europe, the cost of child care is heavily subsidized or regulated by the local or central government. The quality of care provided in Western Europe is pretty consistent regardless of family income.

Compared to the United States, most families in Western Europe, Scandinavia, Israel, Japan, and Korea have access to less-expensive, higher-quality child care.

What has Bernie said about the need for high-quality, affordable child care?

Bernie states on his 2020 presidential campaign site,  “We must guarantee childcare and universal pre-Kindergarten for every child in America to help level the playing field, create new and good jobs, and enable parents more easily balance the demands of work and home.”

Bernie has continued to fight to improve child care in the United States, stating that the lack of essential child care for most families is unacceptable.

Specifically, what has Bernie proposed to help tackle the problem of affordable child care?

Bernie has proposed the Foundations for Success Act to help address these lapses. This legislation would “provide all children…ages six weeks to kindergarten, with access to a full-time, high quality, developmentally appropriate, early care and education program.”

Addressing Secretary of Education Bernie Arne Duncan, Bernie argued that “if we talk about family values, if we talk about children being the hope and the future of this country then we have to pay attention to those the most vulnerable amongst us. We need a revolution in child care.”

Learn more about Bernie’s education policies beyond early childhood at the Education issue page

Early Childhood Education

 “We must guarantee childcare and universal pre-Kindergarten for every child in America to help level the playing field, create new and good jobs, and enable parents more easily balance the demands of work and home.” Bernie 2020 campaign website

Bernie supports investing heavily in early childhood education, which includes universal Pre-K as well as educational supportive programs. This will give all children the opportunity to develop, learn, and reach their highest potential. As a former preschool educator, Bernie said, “in a society with our resources, it is unconscionable that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives.”

Bernie has called the lack of support for universal early education programs is tantamount to “turn[ing] back on children” and “disgraceful.”

Where do we stand compared to the rest of the world when it comes to early childhood education?

According to a 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, out of 72 countries, the U.S. is ranked 18th for reading literacy, 35th in mathematical literacy, 21st in science literacy, and 25th overall in secondary education. The U.S. ranks 12th in student truancy and 28th in life satisfaction – being satisfied with the life they are leading at school and at home.

In a Unicef report about 41 developed countries the U.S. ranks 32 for quality education and 36 for good health and well-being.

In most developed countries education begins well before 5 years of age, usually at age 3 or 4. Wealthier countries spend between 0.5% and 15 of GDP on early childhood education. Less developed countries spend less but have 200 million children under five that suffer from the negative impact of poverty, hunger and inadequate learning opportunities.

The comparison of what the U.S. spends with other countries spend for early childhood education is somewhat misleading. Unlike other countries, the U.S. has no uniform pre-K program with set standards to ensure the public expenditures and additional costs to parents are tied to good developmental and educational outcomes. Currently many states use a Quality Rating Improvement SystemQRIS to improve the availability and quality of early education programs but this piecemeal effort is inadequate and does not create a widely available quality pre-K program that meets the needs of all American children. 

Those are just meaningless numbers, right?

Wrong. If we had closed the education gap by 1998, it’s estimated that our GDP could have increased by $2.3 trillion higher by 2008.

Ouch. So, what has Bernie done to try to improve early childhood education?

Early education is critical to later success. If we want to close this gap we must focus on young children during critical stages of development and learning. Many states are using a Quality Rating Improvement SystemQRIS to improve the availability and quality of early education programs.

In 2011, Bernie introduced the Foundations for Success Act which proposed a universal pre-kindergarten program If it had passed, the bill would have awarded a grant to ten states that would allow them to create an Early Care and Education System. Some of the benefits include: providing all state residents with the opportunity to enroll children, ages six weeks to kindergarten age, in an early care and education program on a full time basis. This bill would give each child an opportunity to develop physical, social, and emotional skills; and improving school readiness by contributing to the cognitive development, character skills, and physical development of each child.

“We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at four or five years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.” (Bernie – February 2014).

Bernie has made enacting a universal pre-K program a key part of his 2020 platform. When asked at a CNN town hall whether or not he supported universal pre-kindergarten education, Bernie gave an succinct response: “Absolutely.”

Ok, but how are we going to pay for this?

Bernie proposes a tax on Wall Street speculation to pay for universal Pre-K. An economist from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote an op-ed in the New York Times analyzing the proposal:

“An itty-bitty, one-basis-point transaction tax (a basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point, or 0.01 percent) would raise $185 billion over 10 years, according to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That would be enough to finance an ambitious expansion of prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and restore funding of college assistance for low-income students.”

Safe Schools and Neighborhoods

“It is a disgrace that kids today go to school fearful that they could be shot and killed. The American people agree: we must take immediate action to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country. Enough is enough!” Bernie May 8, 2019

Bernie believes that the epidemic of nationwide gun violence and school shootings are a national disgrace. He said that children today shouldn’t have to “go to school fearful that they could be shot and killed.” Remembering the tragedy at Columbine Bernie said “we cannot lose our sense of outrage. We must stand up to the NRA and end our gun violence epidemic.” He said, “I cannot think of a worse tragedy than what happened at Sandy Hook.”

Watch Bernie speak at a student-led rally about gun violence:

Bernie joins Democratic colleagues in signing a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leadership calling for “stronger federal investments that enhances student health and safety,” under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant

The Senators wrote, “School districts can also use funds to improve school safety, including training school personnel in school-based violence prevention strategies and developing relationship building skills among students to help improve safety and prevent violence.”

Learn more about Bernie’s positions on Gun Control.

Paid Family Leave

Bernie supports paid Family Leave so new parents can spend time with their newborn child during the first weeks and months of that baby’s life. 

Most American moms do not have paid family leave and must return to work right after giving birth because they cannot afford to take time off. Paid Family Leave that provides time for fathers to bond with their newborn is even rarer. As Bernie says, this is the exact opposite of “family values.”

Why does Bernie think paid time off after pregnancy is so important?

Bernie agrees with the majority of psychologists that the first weeks and months of life are immensely vital to child development. In a June 2015 blog post, Bernie wrote:

“It’s an outrage that millions of women in this country are forced back to work after giving birth, simply because they don’t have the income to stay home with their newborn babies… When a mother can’t spend time with her newborn child during the first weeks and months of life, that is not a family value.”

Not only is paid Family leave good for mothers and children, it is good form the economy. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that, “firms incur few costs in addition to replacing pay (when paid leave is provided by the employer) and instead experience some substantial benefits.” 

What’s Bernie doing about it?

He is also a co-sponsor of the FAMILY Act of 2019 which would provide paid family and medical leave benefits.

Bernie was a cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, introduced in June 2015, which would guarantee at least twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave. This bill, would allow workers to take paid time off after a new birth, to care for a sick loved one, or if they themselves are ill.  Payroll taxes on workers would be raised by $1.61 a week to fund the paid leave. Bernie said of the modest tax increase, “I happen to think $1.61 for three months paid family and medical leave is a very good investment for working families of this country,” 

He is supporting various efforts to make some form of paid family leave, paid sick leave, or paid vacation time available to all American workers.

What family leave policies do other countries have?

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Spain: 112 paid days off 
  • United Kingdom: 280 days with 90 percent pay
  • France: 112 days 
  • Italy: 140 days with 80 percent pay
  • Russia: 140 days
  • Mexico: 84 days
  • Indonesia: 84 days
  • China: 90 days
  • Saudi Arabia: 70 days with 50 percent pay 
  • Sweden: Parents are given 480 paid leave days per child.

The United States is one of only a handful of countries in the 193 member UN that does not mandate paid maternity leave.  Other countries with no maternity leave laws are: Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Liberia. In a survey of 152 countries, 119 countries offer paid 12 weeks of maternity leave with 62 of those countries providing 14 weeks paid leave. This map shows which countries provide paid leave to mothers and fathers of infants.

Amber Alert

Did Bernie really vote against the Amber Alert bill?

Yes, he did. Though not for the reasons some people think.

Why did Bernie vote against it then?

Bernie strongly supported the Amber Alert notifications legislation and signed onto a 2004 letter to the House leadership requesting full funding for it. He voted against the Amber Alert bill because he believed an add-on to the legislation which imposed sentencing guidelines limited the discretion of federal judges and created mandatory sentencing which could lead to mass incarceration of non violent offenders.

Here is a link to the discussion in the Senate about the Feeney amendment where you can read about the civil rights concerns. American Bar Association, 618 criminal law professors, Eight former U.S. attorneys in the Southern and Eastern Districts of 

New York all feared making this amendment law.

At the time Senator Leahy, said of the Amber alert bill in his April 10, 2003 statement,  “After months and months of trying, we’ve finally gotten a green light for a national Amber Alert program,” “The problem has never been winning enough support to pass it. The problem has been that our bill has garnered such strong support that it has been abused as a sweetener for highly controversial add-ons.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote a letter to Congress expressing the same concerns as Bernie that the add-on sentencing provisions would do “serious harm to the basic structure of the sentencing guideline system” used by federal judges “and would seriously impair the ability of courts to impose just and reasonable sentences.”

Sometimes when legislation is sure to pass congress members use amendments to try and get through less popular or controversial laws that otherwise would never pass. That’s what happened here. Bernie knew the sentencing guideline add-on was a horrible idea and he voted against it. He ignored the political backlash and took the vote because it was the right thing to do.  Bernie has done this with numerous votes where he chose to take a principled stance instead of cowering to political pressure.

Childhood Poverty

Bernie wants to protect children living in poverty by strengthening and expanding  Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and other nutrition programs as well as offering a quality education.

Bernie has often praised the benefits of Scandinavian governmental structures, as those nations have less poverty than the United States. Bernie believes that we must focus  on providing resources that improve the health of mothers, infants and children.

Learn more about Bernie’s stance on income and wealth inequality here.

How bad is child poverty in America?

In the United States, 15 million children, more than 21 percent of children under 18 are living in poverty. 43 percent of all children live in low-income households. America has one of the the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world. Compared to 41 developed countries Unicef reported the U.S. ranked 33rd  in the goal of having zero poverty and 36th in achieving the goal of zero hunger.

America comes in second to last, right above Romania, according to a UNICEF report.

UNICEF World Child Poverty Statistics

How does poverty affect children?

Poverty can affect a child’s cognitive development, school performance, academic performance, and it may cause more frequent sickness. The problem in America is bigger than you’d imagine. More than one half of the children born in the U.S. receive assistance from WIC the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children that provides food to lower income pregnant women and families with young children living at 185 percent of the poverty line, around $41,348 for a family of four. 

A 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study shows that students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch based on their families’ income have much lower test scores than children from   families that are not struggling with poverty. Children living in poverty often do not have consistent access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life, according to the study, “Map the Meal Child Food Insecurity 2011.” Poverty also forces parents to work multiple jobs to make ends meet which creates a deficit in parenting time and attention. Shockingly, many households living in poverty have no books in the home. In an environment where meeting basic needs is a struggle, a focus on studies is not or cannot be prioritized. And given that educational attainment is tied to poverty in adulthood, kids who are hungry and poor — 17 million U.S. kids are estimated to be malnourished — kids who can’t get ahead are likely to grow up to be adults who can’t get ahead either.

Bernie has said:

“[W]e have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.”

Learn more about Bernie’s policies around expanding the social safety net for children and working families here.

Nutritional Programs

Bernie believes that no one should go hungry, especially women, children and infants. Bernie believes that Americans who truly need assistance should not be denied access to food programs like SNAP WIC, School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

In 2012, he voted against limiting eligibility and bonuses for SNAP. 

How essential is nutrition for child development?

Very. Nutritious food is essential for all people but particularly growing children. Access to healthy, balanced food (or the lack thereof) can define a person’s life. In fact, undernourished kids more likely to face health issues, have trouble with cognition and academics, and develop behavioral and emotional problems.

How many kids live in food-insecure households in America?

At least 16.2 million kids don’t have access to  nutrient-rich foods on a daily basis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What is SNAP? How does it work?

SNAP formerly known as Food Stamps is short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s a food program to combat hunger in the United States.  Lower income individuals and families who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity can apply to receive food assistance.  An application is filed at a local or state office. An approved recipient receives monthly deposits that are placed on an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card. These funds can be used to purchase food at stores that accept SNAP.

How much of the federal budget is spent on SNAP?

During the 2015 fiscal year, 53.71 percent of discretionary spending went to the military, which amounts to $598.49 billion. Compare that to the $76 billion allocated to SNAP in 2014. 

FY 2015 Discretionary Budget from the National Priorities Project.

So who is receiving food stamps?

About 45 percent of all SNAP recipients are children. Additionally, disabled individuals make up 19.8 percent, senior citizens count for 8 percent while adults without children who are not disabled make up for 23.6 percent.

In other words, these are your neighbors.

Nationally 85 percent of eligible people, but only 75 percent of eligible working poor individuals, participate in SNAP. The rate of participation varies by state with a range of 56 percent to 100 percent of people who are eligible participate actually participating. 

But don’t people on food stamps just buy junk food and cigarettes?

SNAP beneficiaries can only be used to buy household foods and seeds for gardening. Meaning, food stamps cannot be used to buy: alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco, non-food items, supplements, medicines, hot foods, and restaurant or fast-food meals. 

SNAP benefits are can only be used by the beneficiary, they are non-transferable and cannot be traded or sold. Sure, there will always be people who try to game the system such as this example, but that shouldn’t discount the people who truly need help.

The documentary Food Stamped shows that eating a healthy and balanced diet on a Food Stamp budget is not easy 

What does Bernie have to say about it?

Bernie has spoken out against the reducing the availability of food stamps: “At a time when the richest people in this country are becoming richer and the middle class is disappearing, it is beyond shameful to cut food programs and nutrition programs.”

And in an online interview Bernie addressed the fact that in America today there are “about 46 and a half million people in this country living in poverty. Many people have experienced lower wages. People are working 40/50 hours a week. They’re living in poverty… 22 percent of our children are living in poverty”

Bernie believes that individuals who truly need assistance should not be denied access to SNAP. In 2012, he voted against limiting eligibility and bonuses for SNAP in the Senate Amendments 2172 and 2165.

Bernie has also spoken out against the reduction of food stamps, saying, “at a time when the richest people in this country are becoming richer and the middle class is disappearing, it is beyond shameful to cut food programs and nutrition programs.”

You can learn more about Bernie’s support for these and related programs at the Public Assistance issue page.

If we are already funding SNAP, why do we need WIC?

WIC is short for a food assistance program called Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The WIC program is specifically designed to help pregnant women, infants and children under 5 who need nutritional aid. Participation in the program leads to healthier infants, more nutritious diets, and better health care for children

What has Bernie said about WIC?

Bernie has a long history of supporting the needs of women, infants and children. In 1993, he co-sponsored the bill 1993-H1722 to fully fund the WIC program. He wants to expand the WIC program to ensure pregnant mothers, infants, and children have access to the nutritional food they need. 

Official Bernie video about importance of WIC: 

What other food assistance programs are there for children and where does Bernie stand?

Bernie supports the other food programs that are available for children. School lunch program and the school breakfast program and the special milk program and the summer food service program

Bernie stated that “in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires in the country, yet over 50 percent of the children in our public schools are so low-income that they are eligible for the free or reduced price school lunch program.”

Bernie believes that, “When we talk about the future of America, we cannot be talking about turning our backs on the children of this country.”

Bernie supported the Military Family Nutrition Protection Act to amend the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 so that combat pay won’t count as income when determining eligibility for child nutrition programs and WIC.

He supported the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, which improves the nutrition of future generations by providing grants to schools for local produce, increasing education about nutrition and agriculture, improving low-income health programs, and encouraging research-based agricultural practice.

Bernie invested in future nutrition and family farms through his support of the Growing Safe Food Act of 2009, which focuses on educating farmers about safe, sustainable, and efficient farming practices.

He also supports the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which would improve access to healthy foods in underserved areas and revitalize low-income communities by providing loans and grants to food retailers to open in underserved, urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Why should Americans pay for programs like WIC and the School Lunch Program?

Paying special attention to women, infants and children can influence the effectiveness of other government programs. For example, if a child goes without breakfast, their attentiveness in school decreases. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, lack of access to meals may hurt children’s math scores and may influence children to “repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely.”

Not only does the child suffer without funding for food assistance programs but the system is affected and education costs are increased. Educational success also influences the future socioeconomic status of an individual. Moreover, nutrition plays a role on brain health according to Dr. Daniel D. Amen, M.D., as well as a study in 2000 that showed how students given “nutrient dense diets” had “40 percent less violent and other antisocial behavior than the placebo controls.”

There have been numerous studies suggesting that the health of an individual begins in the fetal and childhood developmental stages. Nutritionally, pregnant women need more vitamins and minerals than the average person. If a mother does not get adequate nutrients in her body, adverse health effects can occur. If there are any deficiencies in a pregnant woman’s diet, her baby will be more susceptible to slow growth, neurological disorders, and even death. On top of infant development, child nutrition is equally important, often influencing a person’s health well into adulthood.