Business leaders hit the road to press for more child care investment
Association of Washington Business members undertake a statewide bus tour to raise awareness on challenges facing child care providers. Democratic lawmakers joined them.
The Association of Washington Businesses on Monday launched a statewide bus tour to highlight the importance of child care and expanded access to families. (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)
Washington business leaders this week are traveling the state with progressive Democrats and early learning advocates to drive home the need for more resources for child care.
Members of the Association of Washington Business and the current and former lawmakers embarked Monday on a statewide bus tour to meet with child care providers and raise awareness on challenges they face. Departing from Lincoln Options Elementary School in Olympia, the contingent plan to visit 10 early learning centers across the state by Friday.
Amy Anderson, AWB’s government affairs director, said it’s “critical” that business is at the table for these conversations.
“A lot of our employers are struggling to find a qualified workforce,” Anderson said. “And they’re finding that one of the reasons is because people can’t go to work because they don’t have child care or they can’t afford it.”
The business group is fairly new to the child care conversation. Anderson said it became a priority in the last decade when many businesses realized they couldn’t gain or retain their workforce without affordable, quality child care.
A 2019 Department of Commerce report found that Washington state employers experienced $2 billion in costs related to turnover or missed work related to child care. The COVID-19 pandemic only exasperated the problem.
Former state representative Ruth Kagi, who pushed for more state investments in child care as a lawmaker, said businesses are starting to understand that they can’t hire a workforce if there’s no child care – a stark difference from when she first ran for office.
“I joined the Legislature 24 years ago, and child care wasn’t even on the radar,” Kagi said.
In recent years, lawmakers have made progress. In 2021, the Legislature passed the Fair Start for Kids Act, which infused record amounts of money into child care and early learning and expanded access to those services. Much of the Fair Start for Kids Act was funded with the controversial capital gains tax, which the Association of Washington Business opposed.
But Kagi said child care is still “very underfunded,” especially when it comes to making sure child care workers earn a livable wage and have proper benefits – something she said is not possible under the current finance structure.
Washington needs more options for child care, such as overnight or weekend care, or culturally diverse programs, Anderson said. Finding solutions will likely need to happen regionally as different parts of the state have different needs, she added.
Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, prime sponsor of Fair Start for Kids, said that in the coming session and beyond, she wants to look at what else can be done to pay for care for infants and toddlers, to increase wages and benefits for the child care workforce, and to ensure that middle income families can access child care.
“Many years ago, we thought child care was something that only families in poverty need and what we know now, and especially what we’ve seen since the pandemic, is that all families need support,” Wilson said Monday.
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