The Stand

State takes bold action to bolster child care

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‘This is the biggest investment from our state in early learning, ever.’

 

OLYMPIA (May 11, 2021) –When the 2021 legislative session began, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO joined SEIU Local 925 and other childcare advocates in calling for “a bold, audacious investments” to expand access, affordability, and boost the pay of childcare workers.

“The pandemic has driven home the critical role that affordable, accessible child care plays in a functioning economy,” reads the WSLC’s pre-session one-pager on the issue. “Pre-pandemic, Washington’s childcare system was already broken, with 63% of the state in a care desert, families burdened with yearly costs rivaling yearly tuition, and childcare professionals making less than dog walkers. The pandemic has only increased the inequities: childcare workers have been classified as essential workers, but most have no access to health insurance, let alone other benefits that stabilize a workforce.”

The Legislature responded in a big way. Thanks to a combination of new federal and state funding, it provided $360 million for childcare grants, including $36 million in increased compensation for about 10,000 childcare workers across Washington state. In addition, state lawmakers approved SB 5247, the Fair Start Act sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), which will:

●  Stabilize and expand the childcare industry by increasing subsidy rates and providing resources for professional development, complex needs, non-standard hour care, and trauma-informed care;

●  Make child care more affordable by reducing co-pays for families accessing Working Connections Childcare subsidies and extending eligibility to more families;

●  Make child care and early learning more accessible by expanding eligibility and access to more services; and

●  Strengthen prevention and intervention services like mental health consultation, home visits, equity grants, dual language supports and early intervention services.

We were so pleased to meet with Governor Jay Inslee today, following the signing of the historic Fair Start for Kids…

Posted by SEIU Local 925 on Friday, May 7, 2021

 

Among the innovative childcare provisions that the Legislature included in the two-year operating budget, beginning on July 1, are funds to help more families get subsidies, raise state payments to providers, and give licensed providers access to grants. And for the first time in a decade, the state is funding compensation for childcare workers.

Luc Jasmin, co-owner of Parkview Early Learning Center in Spokane and president of the Washington Childcare Centers Association, said most of the compensation funds will be distributed this year.

“This is the biggest investment from our state in early learning, ever,” Jasmin said. “And it took some time. It took a lot of people, it took legislators who understood the importance of early learning, but we’ve got to keep it going.”

Jasmin noted that the funding includes subsidies to help more families afford care. The budget also includes $30 million for health coverage for about 15,000 workers, premium-free, through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Coverage is expected to be available by September.

John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, said wages for childcare workers stagnated after the Great Recession when legislators made big cuts to the budget. But he pointed out they’ve taken a different approach during the pandemic.

“Legislators realized that fundamental to high-quality child care was respect for and compensation of childcare workers, which has not been at the center of their agenda for a long, long time,” Burbank said.

He added the increased investment in child care is also an investment in a more equitable Washington, since it helps a workforce made up disproportionately of women and people of color.


The Public News Service contributed to this report.

The WSLC is currently preparing its full 2021 Legislative Report and Voting Record. Look for it in the coming days.

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