This Former Congressional Candidate Is Speaking Out About Childcare on the Campaign Trail

Supermajority Education Fund

January 7, 2020

When grassroots organizers and community members approached economic development expert Liuba Grechen Shirley about running for Congress in 2018, they asked her what they could do to convince her to run. 

“I said, ‘Well, I need childcare,” Grechen Shirley, then a 30-something mother of two toddlers, told Supermajority News. “They said ‘well, we can’t help you with that, but what else can we do?’ And I said, ‘I need childcare.’”

Despite her hesitation, Grechen Shirley decided to run against incumbent Republican Congressman Rep. Peter King (NY-02) anyway. But it soon became apparent how difficult it is to campaign while juggling childcare needs.

“When you are running for office, you aren’t working full time, and if you are running for Congress, you aren’t working at all,” Grechen Shirley noted. “To get someone to give up their salary while also getting them to continue to pay their school loans and taxes — most working parents can’t afford to do that.”

Shirley soon experienced the financial strain of forgoing her salary and, in May 2018, petitioned the Federal Election Commission for the right to use campaign funds to cover babysitting, despite the objections of her advisors.

“Frankly, I didn’t have a choice,” said Grechen Shirley. “I pay $1000 a month in school loans, and there was no way that I could also pick up the cost of childcare.” 

The FEC’s decision to approve her request received national attention in a year that saw a record number of female candidates for office. Since that FEC decision, six states (Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire, and California) have passed laws allowing candidates to use campaign funds to cover childcare, and five other states have related bills pending. While several other state election agencies have allowed childcare to be expensed with campaign funds in the past, those decisions are not mandated by law and can be reversed.

“Childcare is a major barrier in getting moms to run because moms are usually the ones who do the majority of the childcare work,” Grechen Shirley said. “Being able to use your campaign funds to on childcare is so critical it breaks down that major financial barrier to get more moms with young kids to step up and run.”

While Grechen Shirley lost to King in the 2018 midterm election, one of the lasting lessons of the campaign for her was that candidates with children need better support. “There’s really no playbook for running [for office] with small children,” she said. 

In early 2019, therefore, Grechen Shirley founded Vote Mama, a PAC that supports Democratic mothers running for office. While Grechen Shirley meets plenty of candidates through her work, she says she also often meets women with young children who say they began seriously considering running for office after reading about her campaign.

“Other moms are saying ‘I don’t have to wait until society says I am ready,’” said Grechen Shirley. “‘I am ready to run right now.’”