(The Center Square) – U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, on Wednesday returned to Washington state’s capital, Olympia, where her political career began more than three decades ago as a “mom in tennis shoes,” for a press conference on federal and state legislation on child care.
She was joined inside the Legislative Building at the Capital Campus by two Washington lawmakers: Sen. Clair Wilson, D-Federal Way, and Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island.
“It’s one I hear about everywhere I go, from parents, from businesses, from literally everyone,” Murray, a former preschool teacher, said of child care. “Because our child care system isn’t just stretched thin, it is broken.”
According to Child Care Aware of America, a national network of more than 400 child care resources and referral agencies, in 2020 the average monthly price of full-time child care in Washington was $1,044 per child. That’s 61% of the household income for a family of three earning $20,578, or 100% of the federal poverty level.
The state Department of Commerce estimates that in the spring of 2020, Washington had licensed capacity to care for 41% of children from infancy to age 4, and 5% of school-age children.
“Right now, families from Seattle to Spokane and everywhere are stressed,” Murray said. “They are staying up late at night trying to figure out how on Earth they’re going to find a child care opening, and then if they ever get on that wait list, how they are going to afford child care.”
Lack of access to child care and its high cost negatively impact the economy, according to Murray.
“And when you can’t find and afford child care, as is all too often the case, parents – and moms in particular – have to leave their jobs and stay out of the workforce,” she said. “And at the same time, child care workers are being paid poverty wages.”
Murray touted her role in helping to secure funding increases for child care included in the omnibus spending package that Congress passed at the end of last year. In that package, the Child Care and Development Block Grant receives a $1.8 billion increase over fiscal year 2022 to total more than $8 billion.
“That now is going to help serve 130,000 more kids,” she said. “It will help our struggling providers to keep their lights on. And it will make a world of difference for so many working families who are struggling to afford child care.”
Washington’s lawmakers mentioned their child care legislative efforts during the current session that convened on Jan. 9.
“We also need to get more child care workers into the pipeline,” Senn observed. “So, while we need to keep them by making sure that they have living wages and health care, we also need to grow that workforce.”
She is endeavoring to pass a bill to that effect.
“I’m working on some legislation to help get more people into the pipeline, whether through the substitute pool that The Imagine Institute is running, or through some innovative high school programs that are using high school students, providing them with dual credit and opportunities to work in child care as they finish their schooling,” Senn explained.
Tukwila-based Imagine Institute is a nonprofit organization providing grassroots professional development opportunities to early care and education professionals throughout the state.
Wilson spoke to what she’s working on in terms of child care legislation.
“One is, right now federally, our undocumented families are not allowed to access Working Connections Child Care, and so I have a bill to allow our undocumented individuals who are in our higher ed, in our apprenticeships, in our two-year programs, to get Working Connections child care so they’re able to complete their education and potentially be folks that are in that pipeline to either be in that profession, or also to go to work and help with our economic recovery strategies,” she said.
Working Connections is a Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families program that helps eligible families pay for child care.
Murray closed out the press conference by saying she plans to continue championing the issue of child care.
“It really is great to be here in Olympia where they are making a focus on child care, and I’m delighted to be your partner and chief spokesperson in the other Washington for this better Washington,” she said.