• MLWA 7

Inslee signs Fair Start for Kids Act to expand access to child care



- Olympia, WA

Gov. Jay Inslee today signed SB 5237, the Fair Start for Kids Act. The legislation will make child care more accessible and affordable for families across Washington state.

The governor signed the bill at a Child Care Provider Awareness Day celebration with legislators and early learning advocates. Last week, the governor signed a proclamation acknowledging May 7 as the official day of recognition for child care providers.

“I’m proud to recognize the incredible work that our child care providers have done over the last year and before the pandemic,” Inslee said Friday. “But we need to do more than just recognize their efforts, which is why I’m signing the Fair Start for Kids Act. This legislation will help build a better child care system for workers, families and the whole state of Washington.”
“Over half a million children in our state do not have access to licensed childcare,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Claire Wilson. “And if it’s available, the cost puts it out of reach for most families. This situation is inequitable, hurts families, and has hindered our state’s economic recovery. The Fair Start for Kids Act will get parents back to work, get our economy up and running, and give kids a fair start in life with quality childcare and early learning services.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of Washington parents reported difficulties in finding affordable child care, costing employers an estimated $2 billion annually in turnover and missed work. This crisis has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.

“The pandemic broadly exposed the child care crisis. When child care doesn’t work, neither can parents, especially moms,” said Rep. Tana Senn, who sponsored the companion bill in the House. “The Fair Start for Kids Act will help power Washington’s economic recovery by increasing eligibility, investing in the diverse child care workforce, and providing small business supports in order to expand accessible, affordable and high-quality child care so parents can get back to work and all kids can get a fair start in life.”

The Fair Start for Kids Act takes a multi-pronged approach at solving the child care crisis in Washington state. The legislation will:

  • Reduce copays and expand eligibility for the Working Connections Child Care and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance programs.

  • Make capital investments to expand existing child care facilities and build new facilities.

  • Strengthen child care programs by expanding access to support services, mental health consultations, dual language supports and more.

  • Grow recruitment and retention for child care businesses by increasing subsidy rates, expanding access to health insurance for providers and providing resources for professional development.

“OneAmerica is so proud to support this groundbreaking legislation and investment into our early learning field,” said Roxana Norouzi, deputy director at OneAmerica. “In particular, we are excited about the investments into rate enhancements and language access for our diverse and multilingual providers. Investments into language access and bilingual early learning settings were identified as a priority by multilingual providers. These landmark investments are a key way for our state to advance racial equity in the early learning system.”
“The Fair Start for Kids Act is a badly needed down payment on the promise of a better future for Washington’s children and their families,” said Dr. Stephan Blanford, executive director of the Children’s Alliance. “The Legislature listened to the needs of those most affected by the precarious state of child care and approved measures that improve both quality and access. We at Children’s Alliance believe that the act also begins to address racial disparities that are at the root of many of our societal ills — yet there is much work to be done to assure that it is well implemented and that unaddressed issues receive attention in the future.”
“As the chapter president of SEIU 925, I’ve heard from providers across the state about how hard the last year has been. This pandemic has proven that child care is the backbone of our economy! This important legislation recognizes our role by paying providers more, and helping more families handle the cost of care. Together, parents, providers, and elected leaders are taking a big step forward for Washington families today!” said Mary Curry, owner of Pathways Enrichment Academy in Tacoma and chapter president of SEIU 925.
“As a working parent of three with child care as the number one barrier to economic mobility, seeing this legislation come to fruition, my gratitude is not only to the committed professionals who work with kids, the lawmakers who drafted and passed this legislation but to those who have been tirelessly advocating for years to make changes so desperately needed in the early learning system for children and families like mine,” said Kelly Blucher, a parent in Tacoma. “We have spoken and we have been heard. Today is an amazing day.”

The investment in child care is funded in part by the capital gains excise tax legislation that also passed this session and was signed by the governor earlier this week.

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