Statewide Child Care Strike Remains on the Table as Grants Go Out to Providers

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A statewide strike of small child care providers proposed earlier this month remains on the table, and union leaders say it could take place in mid-January.

In mid-December, 5,400 providers in Washington began to vote on whether to take the first statewide strike in the sector, said Mary Curry, president of the SEIU 925 union chapter that represents these providers statewide.

"More than half have voted, and voted to strike," Curry said Tuesday.

The group is awaiting input from remaining providers, as well as a meeting with representatives of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families in early January, before making a call. But Curry said based on the preliminary results, a strike is likely.

She said if approved, the strike would be for one day and aim to get the attention of the state DCYF as well as Gov. Jay Inslee. Providers are asking for more financial support, as well as medical benefits to protect providers and staff in the event they contract COVID-19 while performing their essential work.

The state has previously said providers don't have the legal right to strike and that medical benefits are already available to them: Those who provide subsidized care receive health benefits through their union bargaining agreement, while others can access health benefits through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. It also says it has distributed funds, but has limited capability.

Funding distribution

The state has invested more than $200 million in stabilizing child care in Washington since March, according to DCYF. The latest funding came in the form of fall grants to providers, prioritized for those who had not yet received assistance. Distribution of the funds began late this month.

But not all providers have received the new grants. Among those who have, the funds vary in size from hundreds to thousands of dollars, union representatives say.

In Yakima County, providers began receiving grant funds last week, said Lorena Miranda, a local union representative and provider. But she said even for those who qualified, the funds would merely help to pay expenses from past months.

Many providers have dipped into savings, gone into debt or cut staff to diminish costs. Central Washington providers, like those elsewhere, voted in favor of a strike, Miranda said.

Curry said providers don't want to come off as ungrateful for the grant funds — they just won't make ends meet.

"Some (providers) even applied for unemployment, food stamps, medical coupons from the state," Curry said of local providers. "It's about keeping a roof over the heads of not just the children they're caring for, but also a roof over their heads for themselves."

In Washington, 740 licensed child care programs in Washington state were closed as of mid-December and not operating, according to figures from Child Care Aware. Of those, 37 were in Yakima County. Altogether, that diminishes child capacity in the state by 31,362, or 14% of total licensed capacity. It's unclear how many closures are temporary.

DCYF communications director Debra Johnson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The governor's 2021 budget proposal includes more funding for child care providers and families, including funds for personal protective equipment, Wifi for school-age children, health insurance assistance and co-pay relief for parents on subsidies.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka

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