Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

Federal money for child care helps, but much more is needed

Adam 01/31/19

For healthy development, it’s imperative that babies and toddlers have the strongest learning experiences possible through high-quality early opportunities. Washington state policymakers, child care providers, and advocates have worked diligently on improving child care quality in Washington to give kids a strong start.

On Friday, Feb. 1st, Our state’s child care subsidy program, Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) gets a boost from the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant: $39 million more per year. And today we celebrate that all of this increase will go to increasing the horribly low reimbursement rate that child care providers receive.

While this is welcome relief, the federal funds are nowhere near sufficient to ensure child care providers have the resources they need to deliver quality care to babies, toddlers and preschool-age children. The state must make major investments as well—this legislative session.

Combining federal and state funds, Working Connections Child Care helps thousands of working families stay on the job by helping offset the cost of high-quality care for their children. However, a lack of state investment in Working Connections has limited families’ ability to find care, and child care providers’ investments in quality. Across the state, subsidy rates are currently well below the federally-recommended 75th percentile. As a result, babies, toddlers and young children are missing out on the chance to learn and grow in high-quality, supportive settings while their parents work.

After discovering the cost of quality child care for her daughter would have been more than 50 percent of her income, Mary Cameron Perrillo of Everett made the difficult decision to stop working full-time.

“Too many Washington families are priced out of affordable child care,” Perrillo told lawmakers as she testified before the House Appropriations Committee in Olympia last week. “If child care weren’t so expensive I could be contributing to the economy, both with taxes from income and also from freedom in spending.”

The increased federal funding will help the subsidy rates get a little bit closer to the true cost of providing quality care to infants and toddlers. Although the costs still won’t be fully met, child care centers will have more opportunities to serve low-income families and provide higher quality care. Families will have more providers to choose from when they select care for their children.

The funding increase resulted from years of work by advocates and champions like Sen. Patty Murray, who succeeded in getting Congress to double federal discretionary funding for child care subsidy and quality. These federal dollars make up the majority of Working Connections funding. And Children’s Alliance and our partners worked to ensure that the block grant increase would be spent on increasing reimbursement rates, especially for infants and toddlers.

“Every child deserves access to a safe and quality child care environment. Raising subsidy rates, while still not enough, is a step forward in the right direction,” said Luc Jasmin, president of the Washington Childcare Center Association and owner of the Parkview Early Learning Center.

Jasmin explained that the new federal grant will help lessen the financial strain child care centers like his are feeling from the current extremely low rates.

“It would at least prevent large-scale child care center closures across the state and allow them to continue to serve low-income children,” he said. 

Kelly Blucher, a mother of three and Goodwill employee, also recently testified before state lawmakers about the struggles of finding and maintaining affordable care as a working parent. Blucher returned to work in 2017 after an extended maternity leave, prompting her to seek care for her two young daughters. 

“I called 49 child care centers and found no opening,” said Blucher. 

She eventually did find spots for both of her daughters—at different centers across town from one another. 

“We need to put more money into child care subsidies, raise the poverty level and we need more options for child care,” Blucher told lawmakers. “This is the only way families can become self-sufficient.”

State lawmakers need to do more. Early learning makes up just above 1 percent of the state budget. Even with the additional federal money, child care subsidy reimbursement rates are still below the federally recommended 75th percentile. Lawmakers must make access to high quality, affordable child care a state priority for the health and prosperity of Washington’s families, children and future. 

Said Jasmin, “The state must now step up and invest in what is necessary to address the very low wages the workforce currently earns and most importantly, open more access to child care for children across Washington.”

Securing high-quality child care for our state’s infants and toddlers is a team effort: Parents, early learning professionals and federal as well as state lawmakers all need to pitch in. That’s why advocates are calling on lawmakers to #ThinkBabies on Thursday, March 14 at Strolling Thunder. Join us and make your voice heard in the fight for affordable quality child care!