Washington state currently ranks sixth in the nation for the number of people living in child care deserts. This includes the residents of Whatcom County, who are at risk of losing 15 percent of their already inadequate number of available child care slots.
Kids' World, the county’s largest provider of licensed child care, announced in mid-December that its business model was no longer sustainable and they would be forced to close. This would leave 532 children and their families – 61 percent of whom receive Working Connections Child Care – without access to care. The Bellingham City Council has since approved $100,000 in funding to help The Boys and Girls Club keep the centers open, but this emergency measure does not present a long-term sustainable solution.
The struggles faced by Kids' World and Whatcom County are representative of the problems facing early learning and child care statewide. Washington state lawmakers have dedicated just 1.1 percent of the state budget to early learning and child care, placing the financial burden of supporting the system on families and providers. Our state has the ninth most expensive child care in the nation, with care for one infant costing over 20 percent of a median family’s income.
While Working Connections helps income-qualified families access child care, the reimbursement rates it offers does not cover the true cost of care, leaving many centers unable to offer subsidized slots. Despite the high costs paid by working families, many providers still do not have the funds they need to sustain their businesses and deliver the high-quality care our children deserve.
In order to support our children, families, and child care providers, we need our state lawmakers to make investments in early learning. We’re calling for increased funding for Working Connections to close the gap between reimbursement rates and the true cost of quality care. Increasing reimbursement rates will expand access to high-quality care for low-income working families – many of whom are people of color facing barriers to high-paying jobs due to institutional racism.