Early childhood care and education in the state would see sweeping reform through the expansion of affordable child health and learning services, if a bill in the state Legislature wins approval.
“This is a gamechanger for kids and families across our state,” said Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, the bill’s sponsor.
Senate Bill 5237 would fund the Fair Start account and immediately allow more families within 60% of the state median income to become eligible on July 1, 2021. The program provides subsidized daycare services to qualified parents.
The program would take around $357 million of the Democrats’ proposed 2021-23 budget by relying on a capital gains tax expected to bring in about $550 million per year.
Opponents to the bill were concerned about the cost of the program as well as the possible cooling effect on private daycare companies in the state.
“That’s essentially what’s proposed in this bill — more government and more spending,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said.
Depending on where they fall in the state’s median income, families with a household income within 60% of the state median income would earn eligibility for the program, though copayments would vary.
The act would also increase childcare subsidy rates, expand services to providers, reduce copays and increase eligibility for the Working Connections Child Care and Early Childhood Education and Assistance.
“This pandemic didn't cause these problems. It only laid it bare for everyone else to see,” Patty Liu, a Seattle mother and member of MomsRising, told the House Committee on Children, Youth and Families.
Liu said she considered quitting her job and raising her children full-time to save money from ballooning childcare costs.
Wilson said the bill helps families by lowering child care copayments, and increasing subsidies so parents do not bear the brunt of care costs. Currently, the state gives subsidies for up to 65% of childcare expenses; the bill would raise it to 75%.
The bill also supports higher pay for providers that also accounts for nonstandard work hours, or hours outside of a regular work day to consider the full cost of child care.
To account for needed staff, more licenses and certification would be offered to qualified childcare providers in the state. Fair Start would also set aside money for caregiver resources, including mental health and technical learning tools.
The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program would also expand to include children from a tribal government or children experiencing homelessness, previously left out of the ECAP eligibility threshold.
Aida Rodriguez, owner of Busy Bees Home Child Care, told the House Committee on Children, Youth & Families on March 18 that most subsidized families who seek childcare are women and children of color. Though she understands their need, Rodriguez can no longer afford to accept those families.
“We can't go back to the way things were in childcare because the system didn't work to begin with,” Rodriguez said.
Lawmakers voted to pass SB 5237 from the Children, Youth & Families Committee, and it will now be considered in the House Appropriations Committee.