State task force report details policies to stabilize and sustain child care industry and increase affordability for Washington families

Lack of affordable child care is keeping more than 133,000 potential workers out of the workforce

OLYMPIA, WA — Washington state’s economy is challenged by persistent gaps in availability of affordable child care. According to the Washington Child Care Collaborative Task Force, lack of access to affordable child care keeps over 133,000 potential workers out of Washington’s labor force. The effects ripple through Washington’s economy, resulting in an estimated $14.7 billion less in personal earnings, $56.8 billion less in business output, $34.8 billion lower Gross State Product, and over $1 billion in lost tax revenue annually.

Percentage of families in areas that lack child care by county. Data from the Child Care Task Force 2020 Child Care Industry Assessment Report (Aug 2020).

A new report from the task force recommends specific policy changes and investments that would result in increased affordability and availability of child care for all Washington families.

“We must invest in child care as essential infrastructure for strengthening Washington’s economy,” said Washington State Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “Lack of access to quality, affordable child care is forcing more families to make difficult and financially detrimental choices.”

Brown cited the concerning “shecession” as one example of the consequence of the state’s inadequate child care system. Women are leaving the workforce at more than four times the rate of men since the pandemic. The numbers are even worse for communities of color.

The task force recommendations would allow more families to qualify for child care subsidies and eliminate the subsidy copay “cliff effect” that occurs when a small increase in earned income results in a spike in the portion a family must pay toward subsidized child care. Families routinely turn down pay raises or promotions in order to avoid losing the needed subsidy benefit. A gradual reduction would allow more parents at the upper end of eligibility to participate in the program, stay in the labor force and continue to support their families and advance their careers.

Helping more families afford child care does not necessarily mean they will be able to find it. Task force recommendations include incentives for child care providers to accept children that receive subsidies, which would expand access to affordable child care for more low- and middle-income families.

“Subsidies aren’t helpful if child care providers do not accept them,” said task force tri-chair Ryan Pricco, director of policy and advocacy, Child Care Aware of Washington. “Restructuring the state subsidy system to align better with the private pay market would make it financially viable for more providers to accept subsidies, opening more opportunities in more communities for families to find high-quality programs that meet their needs.”

Additional recommendations focus on the challenges around recruiting and retaining skilled child care workers. The report includes several recommendations aimed at improving professional development opportunities, benefits and wages.

Luc Jasmin, owner of Parkview Early Learning Center, president of Washington Childcare Centers Association and task force tri-chair, added, “We have a diverse child care workforce. Over half of child care workers are people of color and 30% speak more than one language. This diversity supports children and families.” Jasmin continued, “But the field is underpaid and most staff don’t receive employment benefits, like health care coverage.” Child care staff make among the lowest wages of all occupational groups, despite the critical nature of the work for developing children and working parents. Low wages and lack of benefits contribute to high turnover in the child care field. “Living wages and access to health insurance coverage are key to stabilizing the workforce and child care industry,” said Jasmin. “The task force recommends measures to increase wages and benefits industrywide.”

This report focused on recommendations for supporting a child care workforce with competitive pay, benefits and training opportunities, incentives for providers to serve families enrolled in subsidy programs and expanded support for parents entering, re-entering or trying to stay in the workforce. Data from the Child Care Task Force 2020 Child Care Industry Assessment Report (Aug 2020).

Task force tri-chair Amy Anderson, Association of Washington Business, noted that recommendations to expand access to affordable, high-quality child care would also increase opportunities for businesses and employers. Anderson said, “Business owners and employers rely on a skilled, available workforce. Child care allows parents to work. High-quality programs that provide nurturing environments help children succeed in school and life. Child care supports the workforce of today and in future generations.”

The task force recommends that the state:

Support providers participating in the state’s child care subsidy program:

Pay providers the same full-day subsidy rate for school-age children as for preschoolers.
Pay providers on a monthly basis, structured like the private pay market.
Restructure subsidy regions based on cost of living factors at the ZIP code level.

Help working parents enter, re-enter and stay in the labor force:

Graduate subsidy copayments to eliminate the “cliff effect”.
Shift subsidy eligibility from 200% of the federal poverty level to 85% of state median income.
Allow parents preparing to enter or re-enter the workforce, and parents participating in job training, apprenticeships and higher education, to receive child care subsidies.

Begin improvements to child care workforce compensation and development:

Take initial steps to understand and model the costs associated with quality child care.
Find ways to increase access to healthcare insurance coverage and higher wages.
Expand processes for child care staff to obtain and demonstrate skills and competencies.

The task force will build upon these and prior findings and recommendations in a comprehensive child care access strategy and implementation plan targeted for June 2021.

“The task force has begun the heavy lift of re-envisioning our child care system. I am grateful for the deep thinking and partnership that has gone into this work,” said Department of Children, Youth and Families Secretary Ross Hunter. “This task force has demonstrated in stark terms that child care is critical for the racial and gender equity our state is striving for. Furthermore, we know that our economy cannot recover until people feel their kids can be in a safe, high-quality setting when they can’t be there to care for them themselves.”

The task force is a broad coalition of child care providers, advocates, legislators, community members and representatives of the business community. Commerce acts as co-convener of the task force with the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Read more about the task force and its work.

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