OLYMPIA Today Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation that will address one of the leading challenges for Washington households by dramatically increasing the accessibility and affordability of childcare while stabilizing and expanding an industry in crisis.

“Childcare is a major concern for the vast majority of households in Washington,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the bill’s sponsor. “This new law will help parents keep their jobs and the salaries they need to take care of their families by increasing access to affordable, quality childcare.”

Pre-pandemic, the Child Care Collaborative Task Force reported that the childcare crisis was costing businesses in Washington $2.08 billion a year and that working parents forego $14 billion a year in lost wages due to lack of childcare access. The pandemic only worsened these problems as massive numbers of parents left the workforce or began working reduced hours, forced to compromise their families’ economic stability.

“In Washington, over half a million children do not have access to licensed childcare,” said Wilson. “Even where there is childcare available, the cost is so high that it remains out of reach for most families.”

The Fair Start for Kids Act, or Senate Bill 5237, takes a wide-reaching, four-pronged approach to help childcare and early learning systems in Washington by:

  • Stabilizing and expanding the childcare industry by increasing subsidy rates and providing resources for professional development, complex needs, non-standard hour care, trauma-informed care, and other urgent needs;
  • Making childcare more affordable by reducing copays for families accessing Working Connections Childcare subsidies and extending eligibility to more families;
  • Making childcare and early learning more accessible by expanding eligibility and access to more services; and
  • Strengthening prevention and intervention services like mental health consultation, home visits, equity grants, dual language supports and early intervention services.

“The current situation is not just inequitable — it hurts families and has hindered our state’s economic recovery,” said Wilson. “Our future economy depends on meeting the critical early needs of children now. The Fair Start for Kids Act will get parents back to work, get our economy up and running, and give kids a fair start in life.”

“Ensuring parents have access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a critical part of the infrastructure needed for them to rejoin the workforce and for businesses to reopen in the wake of COVID-19,” said Rep. Tana Senn, sponsor of the bill’s House companion, House Bill 1213. “The need for childcare is not going away anytime soon, as it’s also vital to Washington’s ongoing economic well-being.”

As the Fair Start for Kids Act ramps up, many of its provisions will take effect on July 1, 2021.