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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘A dramatic shift’: Inslee signs legislation to address child care shortages into law

UPDATED: Fri., May 7, 2021

Daffodils bloom outside the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.   (Ted S. Warren/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Daffodils bloom outside the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.  (Ted S. Warren/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

OLYMPIA – A bill that supporters say expands access to child care and early learning was signed Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee in a virtual celebration for providers.

The bill, which Spokane providers say was desperately needed after the COVID-19 pandemic, provides new funding for child care and early learning. That funding account can be used to:

  • Increase subsidy rates
  • Increase provider compensation
  • Provide supports for family, friend and neighbor caregivers
  • Expand health care coverage for providers
  • Provide regulatory and licensing relief for providers
  • Develop a language access plan for equity and immigrant and multilingual access
  • Deliver mental health services for providers

Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday providing high-quality child care in the state is “an economic growth strategy.”

“It allows our economy to function,” he said.

The exact amount of how much will be invested each year depends largely on how much money comes in from the capital gains tax, which is expected to bring in about $415 million each year. The entirety of that tax will go toward funding these child care priorities, but the amount that comes in each year may vary.

The state won’t begin receiving revenue from the capital gains tax until 2023. Until then, federal COVID-19 stimulus funds will pay for the expansion in the bill.

The final budget that passed the Legislature allocates about $676 million of the federal funds in the next two years to the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Much of that will go toward these child care priorities.

The bill looks to solve the child care crisis from the family and the provider perspective, sponsor Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, told The Spokesman-Review.

For families, it expands eligibility and decreases co-payments for the state’s subsidy programs, an effort to allow more people to access subsidies for child care programs statewide.

“There is no family I know that doesn’t need some kind of support,” Wilson said during a virtual bill signing Friday.

For providers, it increases rates, training and supports. It also expands health care coverage for providers, many of which don’t have the ability to give their employees health care or other benefits.

Luc Jasmin, Spokane provider and Washington Child Care Center Association president, said being a provider means balancing compensation for employees with making sure parents don’t pay “more than a mortgage” in child care.

“(The bill) gives us, as providers, an opportunity to compensate our wonderful staff and stay open,” he said.

The package passed the Legislature last month despite opposition from Republicans, who worried the bill put too many regulations on already overburdened providers.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun said the state is making it too hard to be a provider by adding requirements and oversight that isn’t needed.

The bill does a good job of lowering subsidy rates for families, but the final version “lumped on all kinds of government bureaucracy.”

“They need good rates, and they need us to get out of their way,” he said.

The child care industry does need help, Braun said, but the Legislature should have looked more deeply at what regulations already exist that make it difficult to operate a child care center.

In Friday’s event, Spokane Democrat Andy Billig said this bill will be the biggest investment in early learning and child care in Washington.

“This is huge,” he said. “This is a dramatic shift.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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