Child care wins in the state legislative session

King County families with young children are already keenly aware that the cost of child care is unaffordable.

But an Annie E. Casey Foundation study puts it in perspective: with a median annual cost of more than $14,000, Washington parents with toddlers will pay more for child care than the cost of college tuition.  

Axios recently reported on the study for Washington residents with some standout data highlights including that the average cost of child care for a toddler would make up “39% of a single parent’s median income or 12% of a family’s…”

At King County we are prioritizing growing families’ access to high quality, affordable child care and thriving wages for child care providers. Through Best Starts we’re investing in understanding the impact of increased compensation for the child care workforce and distributing a new subsidy that helps make child care affordable for families ineligible for other subsides.

During the 2023 legislative session, we supported key policies that will expand access to child care for families and create supports for child care providers.

State Legislative update on child care policy changes

Working Connections Child Care investments: Working Connections is the foundational statewide child care subsidy available to lower-income families in Washington. But due to higher costs of living, many King County families who aren’t eligible still struggle to afford the cost of care. The legislature passed Senate Bill 5225, that expands eligibility for the subsidy to include children and families who are undocumented, and increases the income cap from 60 to 85 percent of the State Median Income for child care workers applying to receive the subsidy.

The 2023-2025 State budget that passed includes more than $200 million to increase Working Connections reimbursement rates for child care centers to the 85th percentile of the 2021 market rate survey. The updated rates are significantly higher, which will allow providers to maintain a healthier budget, grow employee wages, and encourage staff retention. An additional $250 million is provided to fund the family child care collective bargaining agreement, which includes increasing Working Connections reimbursement rates and other enhancements.

Covering background check fees for foster and child care applicants: To mitigate cost barriers for families, King County backed Senate Bill 5316, which requires the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to pay background check fees for foster and child care applicants, removing a barrier in the recruitment process for new child care workers.

Child Care Access and Living Wage Proviso: King County supported the inclusion of $533,000 to develop an implementation plan for capping families’ child care costs at 7 percent of household income, and ensuring thriving wages and benefits for child care providers.

Additional investments: This legislative session saw incredible wins with more than $500 million in child care and early learning investments.

The legislature passed budget items that continued and expanded investments in early learning, including:

  • More than $60 million allocated for the Early Learning Facilities Grant Fund
  • An investment of $80 million to expand access to the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and increase provider rates
  • About $7.5 million of one-time funding was provided for tribal early learning grants to be distributed to providers with tribal children enrolled in early learning programs.
  • More than $5 million to support equity grants that ensure culturally responsive programs in early learning settings.
  • The child care team is doing critical and cutting-edge work to focus limited resources where needs are greatest while coordinating within the larger, statewide system.

Together, thanks to the efforts of our legislative champions including Senator Claire Wilson, Representative Tana Senn, and Representative Kristine Reeves, we can help thousands of families access high quality, stable, and equitable care.