Free Universal, Birth-to-Five Childcare is Essential Infrastructure
We know that strong and reliable infrastructure like roads, transit systems, and internet access is essential for Seattleites to be successful in our daily lives. Without these elements, everything from running errands, to commuting, to visiting loved ones is far more difficult.
The pandemic has proven that childcare is also basic infrastructure and a necessity for parents to be able to work. Families in Seattle have long struggled with the high cost of childcare in Seattle – approximately $20,160 annually – and the lack of available slots. As a working mom, I know this firsthand. Childcare workers have also struggled to make ends meet with low wages and few benefits. Investing in childcare infrastructure will help working parents, especially women, get back to work, and will create economic security for those working in the industry.
Establishing free, universal, publicly-funded education for the first five years of childrens’ lives will require a significant investment. But the long-term costs of failing millions of our children and their families year after year are much, much higher. In fact, children who attend Head Start or other pre-kindergarten programs are less likely to be arrested or abuse substances later in life, and are more likely to attend and complete college. For every dollar the government spends on high-quality preschool programs it saves at least $7 in future spending on social services, remedial education, public safety and juvenile justice.
If we can build childcare infrastructure such that families have access in every single neighborhood, in the way we have neighborhood schools in our K-12 system, Seattle will continue to advance our competitive edge, attracting new inhabitants, encouraging businesses to stay and locate here, and enhancing our economy.
Our plan to create free, universal birth-to-five childcare includes three components:
Pillar 1: Build Childcare in Every Neighborhood: Build new or upgrading existing childcare facilities with fully subsidized rent for childcare operators.
Pillar 2: Ensure Childcare Is Affordable for Every Family: : Match the Biden Administration’s $300 payments per child for childcare costs.
Pillar 3: Economic Stability for Childcare Workers: Create portable benefits for childcare workers.
PILLAR 1: BUILD CHILDCARE FACILITIES IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD:
Free Childcare Facilities in Every Neighborhood through the FreshStart for Families Plan: For years, our city’s childcare providers have endured high rental expenses due to a lack of space. Just as we do with public schools, we must ensure that every neighborhood has the childcare capacity families need. To support that major, badly-needed investment, in my first year I will transmit my FreshStart for Families plan that calls for a city-wide bond to fund new facilities and upgrades for existing facilities and family childcare.
- These spaces will be available rent-free to providers
- We will require that the cost-savings for using fully subsidized space go into employee wages and benefits.
- The bond measure will ensure that no family in Seattle lives in a childcare desert.
- We must require our next comprehensive plan update, which lays out how Seattle will grow, to include childcare facilities in every neighborhood.
PILLAR 2: ENSURING CHILDCARE IS AFFORDABLE FOR EVERY FAMILY
- Giving Families Monthly Payments: Currently, both Washington state and the City of Seattle assist low-income and middle-income families in need by paying for portions of their childcare costs. But statewide, the subsidy program only assists roughly one-third of the families that use licensed childcare. To close this gap, we must subsidize the cost of childcare by delivering monthly payments to all families. These payments will match existing child tax credits in President Biden’s plan for $300/month per child under 6 and $250/month per child 6 and older. Benefits will adjust on a sliding scale for single parent households who make more than $75,000 and for two-parent households who make more than $150,000 to ensure the families who need the most assistance are receiving the majority of benefits.
- Cutting Red Tape to Access Existing Programs: In Washington, eligible residents can get access to childcare assistance through subsidy programs. However, childcare facilities must opt in to participating programs and often do not due to low reimbursement rates and administrative burdens. Together, we must build a childcare infrastructure that simultaneously guarantees widespread access via universal acceptance of subsidized care and delivers a simplified, revenue-positive process of accepting subsidized care for our providers. First, we must increase the amount of subsidies that childcare facilities receive so that they are properly compensated for their services and time. Next, the City of Seattle must assist our childcare facilities by hiring a robust pool of shared administrative staff who will be dedicated to efficiently processing applications and paperwork so that families get care faster and facilities are freed up to focus on what matters: caring for our city’s future leaders.
- Pass a Wealth Tax via Ballot Measure: To make universal birth-to-five childcare a reality and level the playing field for hardworking Seattle families, we need a comprehensive and robust influx of funding. The city must set a tax floor via ballot measure for wealthy households so these households contribute an annual tax based on their net worth. This will build on the work done in Olympia this session to fund early childhood education with a wealth tax on extraordinary profits while complying with Washington’s constitutional requirement that all individuals are taxed at uniform rates.
PILLAR 3: SUPPORTING SEATTLE’S CHILDCARE WORKERS
Working in the childcare industry requires investing time and energy into the education and training needed, as well as a commitment to serving one’s community. As such, it is long past time our city streamline giving childcare workers the wages, benefits, respect, and flexibility that they deserve.
According to MomsRising.org, childcare workers are compensated so poorly in the state of Washington that they are paid less than dog groomers. As of 2018, a childcare center worker in King County made an average annual income of just $24,552. These low wages only magnify the gender and racial disparities with respect to income for our city’s childcare workers, who are disproportionately women and more than 50 percent people of color. Without higher wages, more access to benefits, and intentional policy decisions to address gender and racial disparities, the childcare workforce will continue to struggle with financial security, stable employment, and the desire to continue working in the essential profession of childcare.
- Portable Benefits Pilot Project for Childcare Workers: In order to increase talent within and stabilize the childcare industry as a whole, the city will pioneer a pilot project to subsidize the cost of workers’ benefits and enable employees to retain those benefits across providers. These benefits will include health insurance and retirement programs. Under this pilot project, employees will also be eligible for profit-sharing.
- Unionization of the Childcare Workforce: Washington is a proud union-supporting state. By ensuring that the childcare workforce can also take part in unionization and collective bargaining, we can make sure that this essential workforce secures their rights, fair pay, and equitable employment practices.
- Ensuring Childcare Workers Can Live in the Communities They Serve: Through ST3 for Housing, we’ll build the tens of thousands of affordable housing units we need to solve our affordability crisis. That will allow the talented professionals who devote themselves to a career caring for our children to live in the communities their service supports.