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Washington Lawmakers Considering Using Public Land to Fund Child Care
Child care is a challenge for many families in Washington, both in terms of cost and availability.
Now, lawmakers are exploring a unique solution to address this issue: using revenue generated from the state’s forests.
The Department of Natural Resources is proposing a bill that would allow them to purchase land and use the revenue generated from logging or carbon sequestration to fund grants for opening child care centers in underserved communities.
This land would be part of a new trust, and the funds would be used to address both child care needs and environmental concerns.
Representative Kristine Reeves, the sponsor of the bill, believes that this approach offers a creative way to support child care while also benefiting the planet. She said, “Our natural resources can fund our social equity needs. We can do both.”
Persistent Challenges in Washington’s Child Care Sector
Washington’s child care sector faces various challenges, including high staff turnover, low wages, and slim profit margins for centers. Additionally, many families struggle to find licensed child care close to their homes.
According to the state, around 280,000 children under the age of 5 need child care because both parents work, but only about 28% have access to a nearby licensed provider. The annual cost of sending a toddler to a child care center in 2022 was approximately $14,000.
The bill has received support from child care advocates and business groups. However, lawmakers still have questions about the management of the land and the initial funding for its purchase.
Advocates, such as Lauren Hipp from MomsRising, believe that the revenue from the trust could help address child care shortages and affordability issues across the state. She stated, “The benefits would be far-reaching and enormous.”
The Seattle Metro Chamber and the Association of Washington Business also expressed their support for the bill during a recent hearing.
If passed, this land trust would build on the progress made by the Fair Start for Kids Act, which directed revenue from the state’s capital gains tax toward expanding access to early learning and child care. However, the earlier law did not fund the cost of setting up child care businesses.
The Department of Children, Youth, and Families would oversee the grants through a program that is currently unfunded but received temporary federal relief funding during the pandemic. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz sees using state lands to fund child care as a natural extension of the department’s existing work.
Concerns and Questions
During a public hearing, lawmakers on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee expressed concerns about how the proposed trust’s lands would be managed.
Rural lawmakers emphasized the importance of acquiring forested lands at risk of conversion into residential or commercial property and preserving them as working forests.
Specific definitions and eligibility criteria for receiving grants were also points of discussion among lawmakers.
There are also questions regarding the funding for initiating the trust. The Department of Natural Resources wants to use $100 million from the state’s Climate Commitment Act, which is funded by industrial polluters’ carbon emissions payments. However, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins has raised doubts about whether this use aligns with the Act’s purpose.
Commissioner Franz argues that purchasing land for the trust would contribute to carbon absorption, making it a valid use of the Climate Commitment Act funds.
The availability of future Climate Commitment Act revenue is uncertain due to an upcoming ballot initiative that could repeal the law.
Despite these uncertainties, Representative Reeves believes establishing the trust this year and securing funding later is a possibility. She emphasized the importance of taking action to support working families without delay, even if all the details aren’t fully resolved in this legislative session.