Parents, child care providers, community members, and legislators gathered last week during a series of hearings across the state with the Department of Early Learning (DEL). DEL was seeking input on a set of new rules proposed for Washington’s child care subsidy program, Working Connections (WCCC).
The proposed rules would extend the amount of time a family has before they have to re-apply for child care subsidies from up to 6 months to 12- months. The new rule will apply to families who participate in Working Connections Child Care who have a child in Head Start, Early Head Start, or ECEAP. Currently, families are required to re-apply for their child care benefits at least every 6 months. Many families had to re-apply as often as every three months.. As we heard in Bellingham, Tacoma, Seattle, and Yakima last week, this reauthorization process is time consuming and difficult to go through– and leads to instability for kids in subsidized child care.
The change was spurred by the passage of HB 3141, successful legislation that Children’s Alliance and the Early Learning Action Alliance fought for last session. The bill extends the authorization period for a small number of the families in the program as a way to “pilot”, or test, how this change could lead to greater stability for kids, families, and child care providers. After the first year the program will be evaluated, and the longer authorization period could be extended to more families.
In Yakima, one mother testified that she’s been required to re-apply for child care every 3 months – not because she stopped working, but simply because her work schedule changed each quarter while she was going to school. Each time she reapplied, she would have to rearrange her schedule at work so she could go to the Department of Social and Health Services office, all the while making sure that she wasn’t missing any class time.
Many times during the reapplication process, DSHS lost her paperwork or mistakenly thought she was ineligible, even though she had the same employer and was still pursuing an education. This led to gaps in child care for her two sons, ages 2 and 4, for days, even weeks at a time. Luckily, her child care provider was able to speak to the caseworkers directly and fix the situation, but, as the parent noted, what if you don’t have someone who knows the system to fight for you?
As the Department implements HB 3141, they have an opportunity to change the rules to make them clearer both for parents and for caseworkers. In addition to speaking to the benefits of a 12-month authorization period, parents, providers, and advocates pushed the Department of Early Learning to consider two other provisions that would significantly impact the stability of child care arrangements and refine some of the rules that make the program so difficult to navigate.
The Department is now reviewing the testimony and online comments they received last week on the proposed rule changes to make final adjustments to the rules for Working Connections. The final rules will be released over the next few weeks, and new rules could go into place as early as mid-August.
- Submitted by Lauren Platt, Early Learning Advocacy Coordinator