Child Care Costs In Pierce County Threaten Families’ Financial Security
Getting promoted cost local mother Kelly Blucher more than $1,200 a month. The raise that came with her promotion made her ineligible for the state child care benefits that helped her support her family.
“I didn’t just fall off the benefits cliff, I jumped off,” Blucher said. “I lost food benefits, WIC, and the child care subsidy, all for making two dollars more an hour.” Kelly and her partner will soon pay the full cost of child care –$1,800 a month for their two youngest children. Previously, their monthly payment was $570.
Kelly’s story isn’t rare. “Child care costs are unsustainable for many families,” said Susan Barbeau. Susan is Executive Director of First 5 Fundamentals, a Tacoma-based nonprofit at the lead of the 140-organization coalition, Project Child Success. “Families hit the benefits cliff, where they make too much money to qualify for state assistance, but not enough to support their families.”
Project Child Success authored “The State of Child Care in Pierce County,” a recent report commissioned by Greater Tacoma Community Foundation as part of the Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative. “We have a child care crisis in Pierce County,” said Barbeau, “not unlike the rest of the state and the country. It particularly affects families, mostly women, struggling to get out of poverty.”
Key findings from the report include:
- The state of licensed child care in Pierce County for children ages 0-5 is “very unstable and very unhealthy” financially for providers and families.
- Washington State ranks high in terms of quality of child care but has some of the highest costs in the nation.
- Parents, mostly women, are leaving the workforce, which affects their ability to support their families and their potential earning capacity over their lifetimes.
- Between 2013 and 2018, the number of licensed child care providers in Pierce County declined by 18.5 percent, from 551 to 449.
After the challenges she faced, Kelly Blucher learned more about the state of child care through her job. She has become a passionate advocate for solving the child care crisis, “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this isn’t just my story. It’s everyone’s story.’”
Recently, Kelly joined Susan Barbeau and Project Child Success in Olympia to share her story with state legislators. “There was movement in 2019 by the state Legislature, but not enough,” Susan noted. Small increases in the child care subsidy program and capital funding for child care facilities were passed. A new statewide task force was also created under Bill 1344 Child Care Access Now to “think about the business plan for child care over time.”
Susan Barbeau doesn’t think issues with child care have to wait for solutions from the state legislature, though. “We need to begin discussing what we could do locally,” she said. “Pierce County can be a leader. Our community comes together to solve problems. I’m proud of that.”
For more information or to get involved, sign up for the Project Child Success enewsletter.
A high-level summary of “The State of Child Care in Pierce County” was presented at the United Way of Pierce County’s Poverty to Possibilities Summit on November 7th, 2018.