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Over the past three weeks, parents, early childhood teachers and their allies have achieved something remarkable.
By coming to Olympia to speak with state representatives, sharing their stories and those of struggling families they know, they told the state legislature what would happen if the state ends child care assistance for working families on Feb. 1.
They were heard.
Late last week, Gov. Gregoire agreed to rescind the Department of Early Learning's emergency order that would have ended the program tomorrow [Feb. 1] for 1,600 families.
All currently eligible families – those making up to 175 percent of the federal poverty guideline –will still get help paying the cost of child care through the Working Connections assistance program. Child care for two kids without assistance is often more than half of a low-income working parent's salary, so having assistance can serve as a stepping stone to a higher-paying job and self-suffiency.
How did this happen? Parents and child care providers provided the legislature with clear examples of the impact of budget decisions: that they would lose their jobs without a way to pay for child care.
Hurting family self-sufficiency and small business child care centers, slowing the recovery and sending more families to public assistance: These were outcomes, one legislator told advocates, that her colleagues wanted to avoid.
The work to preserve child care assistance for working families is far from over. A two-year budget won't be final until legislators adjourn in late April. Even parents who hold onto Working Connections may find it helps less, as they face higher co-pays. And associated programs that also make a difference for kids may be more at risk, since Working Connections comes out of the same limited funds that support the state's welfare-to-work programs.
But no matter what happens next, the last few weeks have shown that kids have more power when we all stick up for them.