ABERDEEN — A bill co-sponsored by 24th District state representatives designed to provide relief for child care providers and the families they serve fizzled in the House Appropriations Committee, but elements of the bill are being addressed in the supplemental operating and capital budgets.
Among other things, House Bill 2661 would have:
– Provided grants and scholarships to child care professionals now required to obtain additional education to continue in their jobs
– Adjusted state assisted child care copayments
– And other measures to promote the expansion of available child care spaces.
“I don’t think it’s a problem with this bill, but it has a huge price tag so it didn’t make it out of appropriations,” said co-sponsor Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim.
“The bill is great policy, but it didn’t come with the needed revenue package, and in a short session it wasn’t feasible to come up with a new revenue package,” said co-sponsor Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles. “The bill is phenomenal and we’ll keep working on it, maybe dial it back to make it work.”
According to analysis provided to the House Appropriations Committee, the legislation would have had a total fiscal impact of more than $700 million over four years.
“If you funded all parts of the bill it costs a lot, so what’s going on is in the capital budget — I’m chair of the House committee — we put an additional $7.5 million for child care and early learning capacity,” said Tharinger.
In early February, the Department of Commerce awarded $27 million in early learning grants, including $800,000 for the Grays Harbor YMCA and $360,000 for the Willapa Center in Raymond.
Tharinger said the idea with the $7.5 million in the proposed capital budget is to continue to move down the list of those who applied for that grant, and funding those projects.
“This year alone it looks like $148 million dollars in early childhood education with no new taxes because of the growing economy,” said Chapman. “And we need that to help our economy continue to grow. Child care is one of the great impediments of going back to work full time, even though jobs can and do exist, I’ve been hearing that for four years.”
Child care providers have been vocal about the issues they face trying to provide a critical service in the face of state regulations, and their efforts and subsequent media coverage have brought the crisis to the forefront of economic discussions in the Legislature.
“The good news is it’s on people’s’ screens,” said Tharinger. “It’s a real economic driver. If you can’t afford or find child care you can’t work. It’s just such a fundamental thing. I think we’ll see the state stepping up in the operating and capital budgets.”
In the proposed House operating budget, “quite a bit of money is going toward that, almost $100 million going to better child care copay rates,” said Tharinger. Chapman added, “we are trying to lower the copay barrier so it will be less for working families.”
The budget also contains provisions for the educational component recently placed on providers.
“Part of the issue is with these new regulations for operating a day care center,” said Tharinger. “Some have been doing this for a long time and not making a ton of dollars, they’re doing it because they really love it, and now they need a degree or will have to shut down a facility.”
The proposed budget calls for more than $11 million in scholarships and grants to help providers pay for the educational elements now required by the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
“I think there will be enough tuition assistance to basically get tuition free for providers,” said Chapman. “That will put less of a burden on child care centers for that requirement, and I think that’s a really positive development.”
The House passed its supplemental operating budget late Friday. According to a statement from House Democrats, the budget “invests in assistance to help families with low incomes pay for child care, and maintains subsidized pre-school slots for three- and four-year-olds most at risk of not being kindergarten-ready.”
Negotiations are now underway between the House and Senate to arrive at a compromise budget to be approved by both chambers.
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