Commerce: Nearly $1.4 Million in Grants to Increase Child Care Across Washington State

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The Washington State Department of Commerce is providing $1,368,000 in grants to help increase child care across the state.

"Access to affordable, quality child care is an imperative for our state's economic recovery," Commerce Director Lisa Brown said in a statement. "Thousands of parents in Washington were either paying more than they could afford, or struggling to find quality child care facilities and programs near where they live or work before COVID-19."

One in 5 parents didn't take a job offer or promotion because of child care, according to a study by the state's Child Care Collaborative Task Force.

"The public health crisis makes lack of child care capacity even more apparent, with the temporary and permanent closure of numerous facilities just as parents are returning to work and school restarts," the Department of Commerce's press release said.

There are 16 organizations that will get the grants during the first round. That funding will go through June 2021.

Among them is the Thurston Economic Development Council, which received $60,000 for the Grays Harbor, Mason and Thurston County Child Care Collaborative project. Project manager Paul Knox said they want "to look at what the needs are in the industry, and of course for parents and employers as well, and come up with some strategies that we can implement."

The Child Care Collaborative Task Force found 36 percent of Thurston County families lived in "child care deserts" -- places that didn't have enough child care availability nearby. The level was 53 percent in Pierce County, 56 percent in Benton, 55 percent in Franklin, 18 percent in Walla Walla, and 55 in Whatcom.

The United Way of Whatcom County is also on the list of grant recipients. They got $82,500 for the Child Care Collaborative of Whatcom County project.

"Part of this effort will include compiling current available data and conducting a demand assessment to evaluate resources and identify gaps," Kristi Birkeland of United Way of Whatcom County said via email. "Through this process, we will map out a community-specific plan to expand and meet the need for accessible and affordable childcare in Whatcom County."

She said child care for two young children can cost more than $1,500 per month, and that "In Whatcom County, 77% of all female head of household families with children can't make ends meet."

A second round of grant applications closed Sept. 11.

"Grantees will receive 50% of the award from state general funds administered by Commerce, and a 50% match from the Safe Start Fund for a Healthy Economic Transition and Recovery," the press release said.

Commerce and Seattle Foundation started the Safe Start Fund in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It focuses on public health and equity. Donations can be made at https://allinwa.org/.

"Child care providers are a backbone of our community," Tony Mestres, head of Seattle Foundation, said in the press release. "They are making it possible for parents and caregivers to work on the frontlines by teaching and caring for our region's youngest learners. The immense amount of interest in these grants demonstrates the need to address the child care capacity crisis statewide, particularly in underserved areas and communities."

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