Paid family leave is the blueprint for affordable childcare

Reeves argues Washington can do more to help families.

Imagine that you’re a new mother. Just two weeks after giving birth, you have to go back to work because that’s all the unpaid time you can take off before losing your job. Imagine that, as a result of returning to work so soon, you develop medical complications that force you to take even more unpaid time away. Imagine falling behind on rent and bills. You fear the worst — for yourself and your newborn baby.

That isn’t’ exactly my story. But it’s close. I returned to work just two weeks after having a C-section with my second child.

It’s often out of the question for working families to take time off from work for their own health reasons or that of a family member. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to a pile of unpaid bills.

So what does a working mom or dad do when their child or aging parent is sick and in need of care? Soon, staying home without fear of lost wages or loss of employment will be a reality. Thanks to bipartisan work in the state Legislature, families across Washington State will have access to Paid Family and Medical Leave.

Paid Family and Medical Leave is an example of employers, employees, families and lawmakers bridging what was once an impossible divide to do the right thing by working families.

As a working mom of two, I am grateful that lawmakers, community leaders, and business owners — from all across the political spectrum — came together and found common ground.

It is in that spirit of a common good and shared prosperity that the state Legislature must continue putting people first and fighting for working families by:

• Preparing students for the 21st century workforce by providing a world-class K-12 education;

• Helping people pursue the career of their dreams by making tuition affordable;

• Strengthening the middle class by ensuring an economy that works for everyone; and

• Keeping family budgets from breaking over the high cost of healthcare.

But we can do more.

Parents in our communities are struggling as family budgets are breaking over the increased cost of childcare, while the state offers subsidies for low-income families that the average worker earns too much to qualify for, yet not enough to afford the childcare options in our area.

Available slots for high-quality childcare are scarce, too. There are too few providers and many struggle to retain staff, who are typically underpaid despite earning college degrees in early childhood education.

Demand is high, supply is low and the market simply doesn’t have the capacity to respond without sacrificing the high-quality expectations every parent has for their children’s care.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Public-private partnerships are the next step toward increasing access and affordability of childcare. Not unlike our Paid Family Leave system, employers and employees could jointly contribute to flexible spending accounts that help offset childcare costs. At the same time, the state could help low-wage childcare workers pay back their student loans.

There is not an easy answer to the difficult, complex question of how to provide affordable, high-quality care for every child. It won’t be done in a single year. However, the conversation starts now, and it’s on us in the state legislature to push that conversation if we’re ever going to provide meaningful relief for working parents.

Those conversations — between Democrats and Republican, between business leaders and labor activists, between employers and employees — will be tough. But those conversations are why we were able to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave and why I was sent to Olympia: to have thoughtful discussions and get the job done for working families.

By putting people first, lawmakers provided a little more financial security for working families.

If we keep putting people first, we can give families a little more breathing room and peace of mind every month. I am committed to continuing this conversation and to taking action that prioritizes kids, working families and communities.

Kristine Reeves (D-Federal Way) is a state House of Representatives legislator for District 30.

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