Lawmakers took a big step forward for kids last year with the passage and funding of the Early Start Act. This year, we can’t afford to let them take a big step backward.
Legislators are opening the first week of the 2016 session with a close look at Governor Inslee’s proposed supplemental budget. Here’s one item that kids, working parents and employers need them to pay attention to.
Working Connections Child Care provides access to affordable, quality care for children aged birth to 5. By subsidizing the high cost of child care, it helps tens of thousands of struggling parents get a job and keep a job. Working Connections assures employers that low-wage workers won’t have a child care problem keeping them off the job—or resulting in dismissal. Making Working Connections strong keeps our economy strong. And the stable learning environments it promotes can close the opportunity gap and improve kids’ lives—now more than ever, with the quality improvements and accountability created by the Early Start Act.
Yet a Recession-era austerity measure now stands to hurt parents’ ability to work—and kids’ opportunity to learn and thrive. Lawmakers placed an enrollment cap on Working Connections in 2011, and the economic recovery has created enough market demand for low-wage workers that enrollment stands to exceed the cap this summer. But a cap, and the waiting list that results, will create confusion and frustration for working parents in need of affordable child care. Quality early learning can’t close the opportunity gap for kids stuck on a waiting list. The lack of affordable, quality child care will hurt the material wellbeing of thousands of children—unless legislators invest more resources in Working Connections.
State lawmakers, employers and working parents are partners in promoting the kind of jobs that work for Washingtonians: jobs that pay enough to make ends meet. Parents struggling to make ends meet need quality, affordable child care so they have a foothold in the labor market. You can’t find a job without a stable source of child care.
The Children’s Alliance, and our partners in the Early Learning Action Alliance, will be spending the coming weeks advocating for the public investments necessary to keep kids in care and parents on the job. We took a big step forward last year to build a strong future for kids. Let’s not take a big step backward this year.