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Sen. Patty Murray proposes universal pre-K in Build Back Better

Child care costs could be capped at 7% of a family’s income if a child care package from Sen. Patty Murray is passed as part of the Build Back Better plan currently before Congress.

The plan, which started out as a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill and is now down to less than $2 trillion, is being chewed over by Congress and faces opposition from Republicans and two centrist Democrats. If the bill does pass, Murray hopes it will include her child care proposals to help increase supply, lower costs and raise wages for workers.

“This will be one of the most important things Congress has ever passed into law to support kids and families, small businesses and our entire economy,” Murray said during a Nov. 3 press conference.

Murray said that 13% of child care centers in Washington State were forced to permanently close their doors during the pandemic. Child Care Aware of Washington, an advocacy organization, estimated last fall that one-quarter of child care providers had shut down since the pandemic began.

Even before COVID, child care in the state was relatively scarce, and expensive. Washington State’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force estimated that there were roughly 737,000 children under the age of 12 that needed child care statewide, but only about 187,500 licensed spaces.

At the same time, wages for child care workers are low, less than $15 an hour on average. This disproportionately impacts women, who make up 94% of the child care workforce in the U.S., and people of color who account for half of child care workers in Washington State. It also leads to higher rates of worker turnover with four out of five child care providers reporting that their biggest challenge was wages when trying to recruit.

To address this, Murray is hoping her Build Back Better proposal will do four things: boost supply, lower costs for parents, support higher wages for workers, and put states on a path for free and universal pre-K for 3-and-4-year-olds.

To accomplish these goals, the package would cap the amount of money families who make up to $254,421 per year would spend on child care at 7% of their income, with lower rates for low-income families. It would further provide grants to build and open new child care facilities. States could would additionally be given grants to boost worker wages, with the federal government setting minimum wage requirements.

On free, universal pre-K, the plan would allow parents to send their children to preschools of their choice.

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