Hailey Heath and Kimberly Pincheira pay more per month in child care than they do for their mortgages. But they both feel lucky to have found child care at all.
Pincheira tried more than a dozen different child care centers before finding one with an opening within her price range. Heath said it took about 10 different calls to secure a spot for her 2 1/2 -year-old son. And still what they deemed affordable is about 25 percent of their income.
“I’m paying more for my child to go to school than I am for him to live in his home. When I think of it that way it’s hard to sometimes justify going to work,” Heath said. “I could stay home with him and there’s a value there, but I think it’s important to have those social interactions. The cost is challenging.”
Heath and Pincheira were joined by Brittonia Biava-Adams to talk with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., at Hough Early Learning Center. Murray was in Vancouver Wednesday to tour the center and talk with local families about the rising cost of child care and the need for accessible early education.
“There is a child care crisis in our country,” Murray said. “All families are working today … and you can’t do a good job if you think your child is not being taken care of. That conflict is real in every family.”
To remedy the problems surrounding child care and early education, Murray has drafted a bill known as the Child Care for Working Families Act. The bill would mandate that families earning less than 150 percent of the state median income pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child care. The gap would be funded with federal subsidies. The bill would require a sliding scale for child care regardless of the number of children each family has.
Other notable elements of the bill include preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as an increase in pay for child care workers and plans to establish a federal-state partnership to offer affordable child care for kids from birth until age 13.
The bill is still in committee but has 28 co-sponsors in the Senate and 118 in the House. The omnibus budget approved by Congress March 22 included what’s being called a “down payment” for the bill, however. Funding totaling $5.2 billion was approved in the budget to expand the Child Care Development Block Grant program and Head Start. The funding increase for child care is the largest recorded to date.
“I’m pleased Congress is listening a little bit,” Murray said. “But we’ve got a long ways to go.”
The bill not only seeks to ease the cost burden on parents, but ensure children are receiving high-quality education early on.
“We need young kids to be able to be as confident as possible,” she said. “They are our future and our workforce and we need parents to be able to have their careers.”
Ajay Chaudry, author of “From Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Way to Combat Inequality,” said children don’t need to come from low-income families to face an education gap problem.
“The gaps in skills development in the U.S., it begins very early,” Chaudry said. “You can actually see it in children as early as 9 months. And it grows over that time.”
He added that many don’t realize that the skills gap noticed among high school students actually begins in kindergarten.
“What schools do is they maintain the gap,” Chaudry said.
According to his analysis, the Child Care for Working Families Act would also create 2 million jobs for low- and middle-income mothers who are currently either not working or working few hours. He also said 700,000 more jobs would exist in the early learning sector thanks to the act.
“Every family should be able to access a quality learning center,” Chaudry said.