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What You Should Know About the Fair Start for Kids Act

The details on Washington's comprehensive, landmark child-care legislation

Rep. Tana Senn

Published on: June 29, 2021

closeup of a toddler with an adults hands holding their hands helping them walk

When a new child joins a family, many moms (and some dads) take parental leave to recover, bond and adjust to their happy addition. These blissful — albeit exhausting — months are too often followed by stressful ones as many parents struggle to find child care and face long waitlists. 

There simply is not enough child care in Washington state. More than 60 percent of state residents live in a “child-care desert,” where capacity cannot meet demand. In fact, working parents in our state forgo $14 billion a year in wages due to the lack of child-care access. 

A critical factor in the scarcity of child-care options in Washington is workforce turnover. Providers often receive low pay and no health care benefits. More than half of child-care providers in our state receive public assistance. This leads to high staff turnover, which hurts child-care businesses and children’s development.

When staff end up leaving because they aren’t earning a living wage, many child-care businesses find themselves in a bind, as they can’t increase the already high cost to families in order to increase salaries. Full-time care for an infant is more expensive than in-state college tuition!

Child care was already in crisis before the pandemic began, and it’s even worse now. When schools closed, parents desperately needed more care for their children. Many providers — who are predominately women and people of color — stepped up to help, even without the benefit of health care coverage or additional funding for PPE, but many other providers were forced to close their doors or reduce capacity. 

The Fair Start for Kids Act

  • Reduces copays for families to less than 7 percent of income
  • Increases eligibility for Working Connections Child Care & the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program
  • Eliminates the work requirement for student parents
  • Increases Play N’ Learn and Home Visiting services

As the pandemic increased the demand for child care and at the same time decreased supply, parents all over the state — moms in particular — left the workforce in droves. In fact, when it comes to hiring and employing women, our state’s businesses are back to 1988 levels.

The good news is that the Legislature passed comprehensive, landmark child-care legislation this session. The Fair Start for Kids Act, which goes into effect July 1, will help make high-quality child care more affordable and accessible for families, strengthen prevention and early intervention services, and stabilize and expand the child-care workforce and supply. 

To reach these goals, the Fair Start for Kids Act takes a multi-faceted approach. It increases eligibility for the state’s child-care subsidy program, Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), to 85 percent of the state median income (SMI), over time. This means that more families, including middle-class ones, will be able to access program benefits.

Rep. Tana Senn visits a child-care center
Rep. Tana Senn visits a child-care center in Washington state

The new law also helps eliminate the benefits cliff by dramatically reducing copays. More parents will now be able to take a promotion, increase their hours at work without the fear that they’ll lose their child-care benefit or just keep more dollars in their pockets for other critical needs.

Student parents also benefit from the Fair Start for Kids Act, as it eliminates the work requirement for those pursuing a degree or apprenticeship. This means parents can retrain and get a degree or certificate without stretching themselves thin by also having to work.

The Fair Start for Kids Act also includes investments in provider supports, including a statewide mental health consultation system for child care, infant care slot incentives, more Play N’ Learn groups, a Complex Needs Fund for those serving children who have developmental delays or disabilities, and much more. 

This act will help families become more financially stable, with improved access to infant and child care, lower copays and the ability to get back to work. Providers will be able to stabilize their workforce with increased subsidy rates to meet the true costs of care, and provide more supports, including health-care assistance. Most importantly, our state’s children will get the high-quality care they need to be ready for kindergarten and build a foundation for future success.

Parents can connect with Child Care Aware to learn more about child care in their area.

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