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Child care subsidy bill ‘Fair Start for Kids Act’ signed into law

(Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a massive hurdle for child care in Washington, but lawmakers hope that one new law will make things a little easier.

On Friday, to coincide with National Child Care Provider Day, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5237, the Fair Start for Kids Act.

“I have a huge honor today of singing Senate Bill 5237,” Inslee said as he added his signature to the legislation. “This bill is historic.”

The day care industry in Washington was already in crisis before the virus came along, with shortages in those providing care, and — as a result of low supply and high demand — prices that many parents have trouble affording.

Washington day care expert says we’re headed for an even bigger void in care

Now, however, that problem has been exacerbated, with up to a quarter of Washington’s providers having shuttered due to the pandemic, according to statistics from Child Care Aware of Washington. The nonprofit reports that since the coronavirus pandemic started, Washington day care providers have seen their enrollment shrink by, on average, nearly 50%.

This is due to a variety of reasons, from parents not wanting their children exposed to others during a pandemic, to social-distancing restrictions forcing care providers to have fewer children in the building at any given time, to families no longer being able to afford child care because of the economic crash.

As revenues have plummeted, however, costs have just gone up, due to the need to provide PPE, increase sanitization measures, and keep more staff members on-hand to enforce COVID protocols among kids.

“The folks who provide child care are unsung heroes every day, including during the pandemic,” Inslee said.

The Fair Start for Kids Act aims to help both providers and families by expanding day care subsidies to more families, including middle-class ones, and reducing copays for them.

Last year, Child Care Aware of Washington’s CEO Deanne Puffert told KIRO Radio that lower-middle-class families often have the biggest struggles paying for day care because they do not qualify for government aid, yet do not earn enough to comfortably pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for care.

The act also funds professional support, mental health support, and dual language support for child care facilities.

“This has been so many years in the making,” said Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), who sponsored the bill. “This is the culmination of visits to dozens and dozens of child care providers across the state.”

Governor Inslee says it will help child care providers keep their doors open and help families better afford child care.

“I think this is subject to great celebration,” Inslee said. “Besides, Washington state is the number-one state in the nation, with the cutest children in America.”

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