A former pre-school teacher, Senator Murray has fought to solve our child care crisis since she first got into office, and spearheaded the efforts to ensure that historic policies were included in the Build Back Better Act
ICYMI: Senator Murray’s Seattle Times op-ed on the need for quality, affordable child care and universal pre-k provisions included in the Build Back Better Act – READ HERE
ICYMI: Senator Murray Breaks Down How Build Back Better Would Cut Washington State Families’ Child Care Costs, Establish Free Universal Pre-k – MORE HERE
(Washington, D.C.) – In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a former preschool teacher and Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, announced her strong support for the life changing investments in child care and pre-K, that drastically cut child care costs for Washington state families, which were included in the Build Back Better Act. Senator Murray has led the fight for high-quality, affordable child care and pre-K since she first was elected to the Senate. This week, Senator Murray penned an op-ed in the Seattle Times explaining what her child care and universal pre-k proposals would mean for Washington state families.
The Build Back Better child care and universal pre-K policies were modeled off of Senator Murray’s Child Care for Working Families Act, and will dramatically lower child care costs for the vast majority of working families in America, dramatically increase the number of child care providers nationwide, raise child care workers’ wages, and establish universal pre-k for every family.
“Our child care crisis is one of the reasons I ran for office in the first place. To this day, when I talk to workers, parents, and business owners, the first thing they tell me is finding and affording child care is keeping people from getting back to work—especially coming out of the pandemic. That’s why we’re dramatically lowering families’ child care costs, helping parents get back to work, and making child care more available by finally paying child care workers the higher wages they deserve. For too long, our country has told working parents ‘you’re on your own’ when it comes to child care instead of ‘we’ve got your back.’ Finally, that’s about to change,” said Senator Murray.
Right now, the country’s child care crisis is causing a massive financial strain on working families, forcing parents—and in particular, women—out of the workforce, and leaving child care workers unable to make ends meet. With child care costs currently just over $1,300 per month, families with infants would need to pay nearly $16,000 per year on average to cover the cost of high-quality child care. Sixteen thousand dollars is 21 percent of the U.S. average income for a family of three. At the same time, child care workers are struggling to make ends meet.
Under the child care proposal in the Build Back Better Act modeled off of Senator Murray’s Child Care for Working Families Act, families across the country would save an average of $5,000-$6,500 a year in child care costs and millions will pay nothing at all. For example, when fully implemented, no family of four in Washington state making less than $254,000 would spend more than 7% of their income on child care, resulting in big savings for Washington families. A family of four making $151,000 in Washington state would save $164 per week on child care. Many families earning lower incomes would pay nothing at all. A family of four in Washington earning less than $76,000 would receive free child care.
And even for families who can afford child care—too many can’t find it. More than 50% of Americans—and 60% of rural Americans—live in child care deserts, or communities with an inadequate supply of licensed child care—and this was before COVID-19 forced over 20,000 providers to close their doors. The Build Back Better Act would invest in building up our child care supply so that every family has access to quality child care that they can afford.
Across Washington state, people know that the lack of quality, affordable child care is a crisis—and the pandemic has only made it worse.
In Washington, child care for an infant under age 1 costs an average of $14,554 a year while college costs $6,830, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. In Idaho, with the nation’s lowest minimum wage, infant care still costs about as much as college tuition, an average of $7,474 a year. Care for a 4-year-old costs a yearly average of $11,051 in Washington and $6,454 in Idaho.
Child care was difficult to find long before COVID-19 hit Washington state, however, the prolonged pandemic has made paying for, and even finding child care, even harder. Many parents end up having to place their children on waitlists while others can’t find anywhere for their kids to go.
During the pandemic, child care providers have been considered essential to care for the children of health care and agriculture workers, for example. But as of mid-January, 13% of providers statewide closed because of the pandemic, a loss of 712 licensed child care programs, according to Child Care Aware, a nonprofit that works with child care providers statewide. It has reduced capacity by 29,290 children.
Washington state was in crisis even before the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools and child care operations, exposing critical gaps in the nation’s child care system. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Washington ranked ninth among the least-affordable states in the nation for infant care in 2019, with costs requiring 20% of median family incomes. Fast-forward to 2021, the crisis of child care costs and capacity not only has worsened for the most vulnerable working families, but it has continued to spread up the socioeconomic ladder to higher-income workers.
Waiting lists, with hundreds of kids. Child care centers, having to close. Those are some of the challenges people described at a meeting about our area’s child care crisis due to COVID-19. Parents and child care providers are calling for help: as the pandemic forces them to make impossible choices.
Senator Murray has been a long-time leader on child care in Congress, and has been pushing hard for her proposal in Build Back Better:
The senator, a former preschool teacher, has made affordable child care a priority since she was first elected to the Senate three decades ago. But the pandemic “just ripped this wide open,” she said, as schools and child care centers closed and businesses struggled to retain workers who had nowhere to send their kids. President Joe Biden made Murray’s proposal part of his campaign platform, much of which his allies in Congress have turned into the Build Back Better Act.
Funds for child care are a critical part of a spending bill that’s making its way through Congress, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said during a recent discussion at a Whatcom County YMCA child care center. Murray, a former preschool teacher, got her start in politics by advocating for a state-funded preschool program that was threatened by budget cuts, according to biographical information provided by her staff. At a recent meeting in Bellingham, the Bothell Democrat discussed her efforts to make child care affordable for working families and establish a universal pre-k program nationwide.
Murray: “I have been working my entire career to try and solve a problem that every single parent faces when they work, that is how do you make sure your kids are taken care of, they’re safe and they’re learning. The issue of childcare has been with us forever, it is now for the first time at the forefront of our nation, and we have the possibility in the Build Back Better plan to make a significant change in the lives of working families across the country by making sure childcare is quality and affordable for all families.”
“It is so amazing that what has been a secretly whispered stress campaign for so many parents for so long is finally seeing prime-time attention,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who has been championing child care reforms and family-friendly policies since she was elected in 1993. “I remember when I ran for the Senate in 1992, one of the questions that was thrown at me was, ‘What are you going to do about your kids?’” said Ms. Murray, who was initially dismissed during her campaign as “just a mom in tennis shoes.” (She eventually embraced that label and ran on it.) “If we keep asking, ‘What are you going to do about your kids?’ and not, ‘What are we as a country going to do?’ then we’re heading in the wrong direction,” she said. “All of that changes now.”
“I’ve been talking about this for a very long time. In fact, when I first ran for the Senate … I had people saying to me, ‘What are you going to do with the kids?'” said Murray, a former preschool teacher. “I guarantee they never said that to any man running for the Senate, but they said it to me.” The Senate has come a long way since Murray was first elected in 1992, which was dubbed the “Year of the Woman” because the number of women who won nearly doubled to seven. She was the first woman to serve with children, and she understood the child care challenges. “I was living it daily,” she said. “But no one else was living it daily.”
And people in Washington state and across the country are calling for Senator Murray’s proposed solutions to our child care crisis
Thirty years ago, we ranked number seven among the advanced economies as a share of women working. You know where we are today? We rank 23rd. Twenty-third. Seven to twenty-three. Once again, our competitors are investing and we’re standing still. Today, there are nearly 2 million women in America not working today simply because they can’t afford childcare. A typical family spends about $11,000 a year on childcare. In some states, it’s $14,500 a year per child. We’re going to make sure nearly all families earning less than $300,000 a year will pay no more than 7 percent of their income for childcare. And for a family making $100,000 a year, that will save them more than $5,000 on childcare. This is a fundamental game-changer for families and for our economy as more parents, especially women, can get back to work and work in the workforce. I’m looking at a lot of significant press people in front of me. A lot of them are working mothers. They know what it costs.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has helped introduce the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act in Congress. Last month, she said: “After years of banging on doors … trying to get my colleagues to talk about child care, COVID-19 has thrust this once silent epidemic to the center stage — and now, my colleagues are coming up to me saying, ‘Patty, child care is a big problem.’ ”
Until a year ago, parents’ struggles to find quality, affordable child care were largely considered a personal problem. Just another thing to juggle when working while raising kids. The pandemic upended that conventional wisdom, as work and family obligations collided. With child-care centers shuttered, providers scarce, and schools and workplaces operating remotely, the system’s shortcomings became everyone’s problem and, increasingly, a public-policy issue. The Child Care for Working Families Act, reintroduced by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last week, aims to change all that.
About 360,000 child care jobs disappeared last year in the early months of the pandemic. Many facilities have closed, and many that remain open have difficulty attracting workers; according to Washington’s Employment Security Department, the Portland metro area has 3,363 child care workers, and they earn an average of $14.59 an hour…To deal with the crisis, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act…Murray said: “As we work to build back a stronger, fairer economy, we must recognize that investment in child care is essential … Our legislation will ensure every working family can get high-quality, affordable child care, and that our child care educators are paid what they deserve.”
The proposal for child care and universal pre-K would significantly lower the cost of raising children. Now, most parents have little government support for care until their children are old enough to enter public school at age 5. The new proposal would make support near universal, starting in infancy.”
Families will save tens of thousands of dollars, an early-childhood workforce of more than 2 million will become financially stable, the economy will benefit from the additional labor that working parents will be able to perform, and children will receive early educational experiences that can help them thrive.
The child care and universal pre-k policies in Build Back Better will address this crisis by:
- establishing universal pre-k so every family has access to pre-kindergarten for children ages 3 and 4;
- providing subsidies to the vast majority of working families in the United States—so that no eligible working family has to pay more than 7% of their income on child care. Specifically,
- working families earning up to 250% of the median income in their state (SMI), or about $300,000 a year nationally, would be eligible for child care assistance once the program is fully phased in,
- those earning less than 75% of the SMI wouldn’t pay anything at all,
- families would pay for child care based on an income-based sliding scale, ensuring no eligible family pays more than 7 percent of income on child care;
- significantly expanding the number and improving the quality of child care providers across the country, which would benefit every single family who needs child care; and
- supporting higher wages for child care workers—most of whom are women and workers of color.