Legislature is failing to address the child care crisis

Being a parent is a tough task in today’s world. You want to ensure they are safe, getting a good education, fitting in, and the worries of social media influence among other concerns. However, the first two toughest questions facing parents may be, “Can I find child care? Can I afford it?” Unfortunately, the answer for many appears to be “no.”

Information from the Economic Policy Institute, as well as a 2022 Washington State Department of Commerce study to the Legislature, “The true cost of quality child care in Washington,” includes some eye-opening numbers.

  • 63% of children under age five do not have access to a nearby child care provider, which reduces the state workforce by 133,000.
  • In a January 2022 survey, 71% of parents reported that difficulty finding child care affected their ability to work.
  • Washington is #9 in the country for most expensive infant child care.
  • The average family spends more than 35% of their income to send two children to child care.
  • Including missed opportunities for businesses and consumer spending, Washington’s economy loses an estimated $6.5 billion annually because of child care shortages.
  • Lack of access to affordable child care leads to working parents in Washington foregoing $14 billion in lost wages each year.
  • Pre-pandemic, employee turnover and missed work due to child care access issues cost Washington employers an estimated $2.08 billion annually.

The statistics are staggering, but also disappointing. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Washington state’s child care industry hard. However, it was in crisis long before the pandemic hit.

The disappointment comes from the fact that we have been trying to address this since I was first elected in 2014. I have also been serving on committees where most child care bills are referred for consideration.

While there have been pieces of legislation passed and increased funding, we are making little progress. Far too many parents are living in “child care deserts” – areas where there are too few licensed slots for the number of children who need care.

Several bills introduced this session would have helped:

  • House Bill 1716 would have provided a B&O tax credit to employers that voluntarily provide child care assistance to employees to help ensure parents could remain in the workforce. This had bipartisan support.
  • House Bill 2179 would have relaxed licensing and regulatory requirements for providers in child care deserts so children have access to care, and parents could get to work, no matter where they live. 
  • House Bill 2468 would have modified zoning regulations to make it easier to site child care centers.

I also introduced House Bill 2300, which would have increased the availability of child care providers by creating a pathway for early childhood educators to become certified based on prior work experience. This is legislation that was brought to me by the child care industry. They told me this is what we need to get more folks into child care and bring back the ones we lost.

This bill languished in committee all session and was not even scheduled for a public hearing.  

So, while parents are asking themselves “Can I find child care? Can I afford it?” – I ask, “What are we doing in the Legislature to help this struggling industry?”

This needs to be a high priority. Lack of child care options disproportionately affects single parents, women, families of color, and those who live in poverty.

It is time for the Legislature to step up next year, reach across the aisle, put aside our differences, address the long overdue reforms this industry needs, and ensure we have an accessible and affordable child care system in Washington state.

Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, represents the 13th Legislative District and is serving his fifth term in the Washington State House of Representatives.

State Representative Tom Dent, 13th Legislative District
437 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(509) 941-2346 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000