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How child care provisions in 'Build Back Better' bill could greatly help Washington families

The "Build Back Better" bill is still being negotiated in the U.S. Senate.

SEATTLE — Parents, preschool providers and lawmakers alike said the child care provisions laid out in a federal spending plan proposal could significantly help families in need of child care services.

Senate Democrats are still negotiating the bill, known as "Build Back Better," that, if passed, would expand Medicare, climate change initiatives, and reduce health care and child care costs.

"You can't go to work if there's nowhere for your kids to go," said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a former preschool teacher herself who is spearheading the child care provisions of the bill.

The bill includes universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and cost reductions for child care by way of federal subsidies provided to child care centers. If passed, the bill would also increase pay for the early childhood education staff.

The bill would also ensure families won't pay more than 7% of their income toward child care, according to lawmakers.

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"This will save money,” said Murray. “It will make sure there is space and a place for your child to go that is quality and affordable.”

Murray said the child care provisions would also expand the number of child care providers at a time when slots have been scarce due to high demand and pandemic-related staffing shortages, something the bill also addresses.

"We build up the supply over the first several years by providing grants and support to states to build child care centers,” said Murray. “Right now, we just don't have enough.”

In King County, there are only 53 child care openings for every 100 toddlers, according to a news release by Murray's office. Her office said, as an example, a single mother in Washington who earns $53,000 with three children would pay nothing for child care. A family of three in Washington that makes an income of $86,000 with a 4-year-old would pay between $2,580 and $3,440 a year for child care, according to the release.

"It was insane," said Sara Robitaille of Columbia City, a working mother of two children.

Robitaille spends approximately $1,600 a month for her 3-year-old daughter to attend preschool at the Seattle-based Launch, a child care center located at the Rainier Community Center. Her 5-year-old son is still on the waiting list.

"Balancing little kids and COVID and alternative work schedules and child care has definitely been challenging," said Robitaille.

Laura Nicholson, Launch's chief operating officer, said preschool for children ages 3 to 5 could cost upwards of $2,200.

"For some people, that's more than their rent, their mortgage, and it's just not affordable," said Nicholson.

She added that universal pre-K, in the same manner that K-12 public schools are fully funded, would help parents enormously.

Deeann Puffert, CEO of the nonprofit organization Childcare Aware in Washington, said King County's preschool market is among the most expensive in the state, with infant care running up to $20,000 a year.

"This bill would make a major impact on those families' ability to be able to afford care, which will allow them to quit piecing together child care, which is very stressful on the family," explained Puffert.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House last month, is still being hashed out in the U.S. Senate. Lawmakers have indicated they hope a vote on the bill will happen by Christmas Day.