Among the many legislative battles Senator Dodd has fought over the years, he considers his work on behalf of our nation’s children and their families to be among the most important and rewarding. Ever since he was sworn-in for his first Senate term in 1981, Senator Dodd has been an unrelenting crusader for the health and well-being of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. In 1983, Senator Dodd teamed up with then-Republican Senator Arlen Specter to form the Children’s Caucus, Congress’s only bipartisan, bicameral caucus devoted exclusively to issues that affect our nation’s young people. As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, Senator Dodd has formed partnerships with lawmakers from both parties to improve health care and educational opportunities for millions of America’s children and expand the safety net for working families who have fallen on hard times.
Chief among Senator Dodd’s contributions in this area was his work on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Having first authored this bill in 1986, Senator Dodd worked hard for seven years, overcoming two vetoes by President George H. W. Bush, until it was finally signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. Since its enactment, this groundbreaking legislation has allowed tens of millions of Americans to take up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave if they fall ill, or if they need to care for a sick relative or a new child. Senator Dodd has always believed that every American worker deserves the right to take time off of work for a family issue or to deal with a medical emergency without worrying about whether they will lose their job. By establishing national leave requirements for employers, passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act represented a historic, career-defining achievement for Senator Dodd.
Senator Dodd is also well-known for his work on children’s health issues. Long before passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Senator Dodd fought hard to ensure that low-income children in this country would receive access to quality, affordable health care. In 1997, he joined his long-time friend and colleague Senator Kennedy in authoring the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a federal-state partnership that provides health insurance coverage to uninsured children who are not eligible for Medicaid. Twelve years later, Senator Dodd helped lead the fight to pass legislation reauthorizing CHIP, after a previous reauthorization bill was vetoed by President Bush in 2008.
Senator Dodd has also demonstrated his commitment to protecting the health of our nation’s children through his longstanding work on newborn health issues. In 2006, Senator Dodd joined Republican Senator Lamar Alexander in passing legislation that expands federal research into premature births and provides new educational and support services to pregnant women in order to reduce their incidence. Two years later, Senator Dodd worked with his Republican colleague Senator Orrin Hatch to author legislation that provides more effective education about the importance of newborn screening to parents and health care providers and helps states upgrade their own newborn screening initiatives.
In addition to his work on these critically important health care-related matters, Senator Dodd has made it his career’s mission to help families afford safe, quality child care. During his second term in office, Senator Dodd scored a major victory for working families in this country when legislation that he authored creating the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program was signed into law. Under this law, the first of its kind since World War II, the federal government has provided billions of dollars in aid to help families responsibly balance their jobs with caring for their children by providing safe, reliable, child care options in their communities. In recognition of the historic nature of this legislation and the millions of working families who have benefited from its provisions, Senator Dodd was awarded the “Lifetime Leadership Award for Quality Child Care” by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies in 2001.
That award was not the first time Senator Dodd has been recognized for his tremendous contributions to the well-being and educational enrichment of our nation’s children. In fact, Senator Dodd was named “Senator of the Decade” in 1991 by the National Head Start Association for his years of work in support of the Head Start program. Senator Dodd has always believed that the key to a child’s success in life is access to a top-notch, world-class education, and that early childhood learning is particularly important to the future development of all children. As a result, Senator Dodd has spent the better part of his tenure in the Senate working to ensure that Head Start, which has helped nearly 20 million American youngsters since it began in 1965, receives the federal resources it needs to continue providing a better future for our nation’s children.
But Senator Dodd’s efforts to ensure that America’s children receive the support and enrichment they need to succeed in life extends well beyond the walls of the classroom. Senator Dodd was instrumental in the creation of the 21st Century Learning Centers program, which offers children afterschool opportunities for additional instruction in math, science, and reading. Senator Dodd believes that safe, healthy, and academically-enriching afterschool programs are absolutely critical to helping children with working parents improve their grades and stay out of trouble. And so he has worked hard to expand federal support for these programs and ensure that more American children have the opportunity to benefit from them.