A bright day care center for children with colorful, painted walls and lots of toys, and a table with cups of pens of markers in a line, as sun shines in through the windows

OPINION | Making a Difference for King County Families With Child Care Subsidies

by BillieJo Barrios

As a single mom with a 5-year-old and 16-year-old, with no child support, living in King County, where rents don’t stop skyrocketing, I wanted to say “yes” to my teenage daughter when she asked to go to cross-country camp with her track team.

Instead, I had to say that the only way she could go is if the camp could cover the cost with scholarships.

With child care costs roughly the same as rent, I am left with choices that — as a mother — I don’t want to make. Do I buy fewer groceries that month, do I pay my utility bills on time, do I get my daughter the cleats she wants? I can reach out to every resource I possibly can to try to make up that difference, and it’s often still not enough.

But about three years ago, that changed when pandemic relief money hit and I became eligible for child care assistance. Today, even though the federal money has stopped coming in, I’m still getting support through the King County-funded Best Starts for Kids Child Care Subsidy that helps cover the cost of my 5-year-old’s child care.

When you’re running on a tight budget and support is available, like a child care subsidy, it really has a huge impact. You’re able to set aside all the money that would be for child care. That makes a change not just financially, but on the whole morale of the family. Our family has worked so hard to be resourceful. On top of my full-time job, I’m always trying to find scholarships, resources, and financial aid. My daughter juggles her school, sports, and part-time job working at the child care center her brother attends. This subsidy takes a weight off all our shoulders.

Because now I can sign my daughter up for the camp she wants to go to, pay for her cross-country cleats, buy groceries for the month without missing the utility bill, fill up the gas tank to full. Without child care assistance, I don’t know if I would have been able to fill up my tank and make it to work every day and get that regular paycheck. So having child care assistance saved me from losing my job, from losing my car, and even from potentially missing a rent payment.

The challenges I’ve faced juggling the cost of child care are not unique. Families across King County, Washington, and the whole country are faced with the very same hard choices I’ve had to stare down to pay their bills, pay for child care, and support their kids pursuing their happiness within their community. In Washington, child care costs can be more than a third of a two-parent family’s income and more than 150% of a single-parent family’s income, according to the Child Care Collaborative Task Force Washington State Child Care Industry Assessment Report, July 2020. That same report shows that affordable child care should cost only 7% of a family’s income.

Families, community groups, elected leaders, and government agencies know this challenge needs to be addressed systematically. King County’s Department of Community and Human Services has signed on to support the Child Care Access and Living Wage Proviso for the 2023–2025 state budget, which will fund the creation of a plan to cap families’ total child care costs at 7%, while ensuring child care workers are provided living wages and benefits. These programs have become a critical bridge to self-sufficiency and more families maintaining their jobs, housing, and quality child care, which results in healthier families and communities.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

📸 Featured image by Aleksander Krsmanovic/Shutterstock.com.

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