Sale of Senate Ornaments Will Support Day Care Center

Posted March 27, 2007 at 6:41pm

Tucked away in the Senate’s Iraq supplemental spending bill are a few sentences designed to give some added support to the children of the people who work in the chamber.

The language amends the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1993 to allow the Secretary of the Senate to transfer funds generated from the sale of the chamber’s annual holiday ornaments to the Senate Employees’ Child Care Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 that provides day care and early education for the children of Senate workers.

The center is widely considered a model for other early education programs. Currently, 68 children ranging from infants to pre-kindergartners are spread throughout six classrooms at the center, according to Director Christine Schoppe Wauls.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the center held frequent fundraising drives, attracting a range of lobbyists and others seeking influence on Capitol Hill. But today, nearly 90 percent of the center’s funds come directly from tuition fees, Wauls said.

In 2006, the center took in $956,552 in revenue — with $828,000 of that coming from tuition. According to Wauls, the rest stems from registration and membership dues, activity and penalty fees, Social Security and Medicare co-payments and fundraising. (While the center does not maintain an active fundraising arm, it did receive $300 in contributions, mainly through the United Way.)

The Senate also supports the center by providing building, technology and infrastructure support. Plus, services such as water, electricity, heat and air conditioning, as well as protective services provided by the Capitol Police, also are picked up by the chamber.

Past Secretaries also have given the center additional money from ornament sales, according to a Senate aide familiar with chamber operations, as it is a way for Senate officials to provide additional support without using appropriated funds.

On average, the Senate gift shop sells about 30,000 ornaments each year, and for the past several years the center has received about $40,000 from those transactions for scholarships, educational activities and equipment.

(That amounts to about 4 percent of total center revenues, Wauls said.)

But at the end of 2006, the Government Accountability Office advised incoming Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson that more transparency should be provided in the process, the aide said.

So, Erickson’s office worked with appropriators to get “a more formalized procedure” in place, the aide added.

Expenditures in 2006 amounted to $956,389, nearly equal to total revenue, Wauls said. Eighty-one percent of that — $773,313 — went to salaries, unemployment insurance, Social Security costs and other staffing needs.