Rep. Peter Abbarno: Child care investments help families and businesses
A Washington State Department of Commerce Child Care Collaborative Task Force report confirmed that more than 550,000 children lack access to licensed child care services. While 61% of young children live in households where both parents work, our state only has licensed child care capacity for 41%.
Child care in Washington state has been historically over-regulated and under-incentivized, leaving local capacity gaps and families fending for themselves. Many, including myself, call these regions “child care deserts.”
Not every family qualifies for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program or Head Start, and there isn't always capacity, especially for what the United Way of Lewis County calls ALICE populations (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed). These families often make too much to qualify for programs, but not enough to live beyond paycheck-to-paycheck.
Why is early learning important? Studies evidence that children who receive high-quality child care and kindergarten preparedness earn 33% more income over their lifetime, 30% are more likely to graduate from high school, and 70% are less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
According to the Washington Child Care Collaborative Task Force (C3TF) — created by the Legislature in 2018 to develop policy recommendations to improve child care access and affordability — inadequate access to affordable, quality child care translates to annual losses of $14.7 billion in personal income and $56.8 billion in business profits. These losses also keep more than 133,000 workers out of the state's labor force. C3TF's most recent report urged “policymakers to keep child care top-of-mind when investing to strengthen our economy.”
Child care and early learning are important for the child, family, and our community. This year, child care was a focus for many in the Legislature. While there weren't perfect solutions, I believe the Legislature made important investments.
For instance, Senate Bill 5237 (Fair Start for Kids) provides support for families and child care providers, helps prepare our children for kindergarten, and expands funding opportunities to ALICE populations. We also unanimously passed House Bill 1370, which funded the Early Learning Capital Grant program. Starting Oct. 1, 2021, the Department of Commerce began accepting applications from eligible organizations to construct new child care centers, and/or plan, renovate, and purchase existing facilities.
Strengthening and empowering families is my priority. However, not every family has the ability or capacity to stay home with a child or prepare them for a transition to kindergarten. That is why we must continue creating capacity for families in need of child care and early learning, supporting the efforts of small business owner child care providers, and strengthening educational and economic opportunities for working families.
Editor's note: Serving the 20th District, Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, is a community leader, attorney, and most importantly, a husband and father. Abbarno and his wife, Holly, a math teacher at Centralia Middle School, have two children.