U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, second from left, visits with Julia Fulton, director of the Cedarbrook Early Learning Center in Port Hadlock, and local parents Sarah Dexter and Candace Mangold, from left, to discuss Murray’s new Child Care for Working Families Act. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Murray stumps for child care: Senator visits Hadlock center to hear about cost

PORT HADLOCK — U.S. Sen. Patty Murray visited the Cedarbrook Early Learning Center in Port Hadlock to talk with parents and child care providers to publicize a bill she has introduced, the Child Care for Working Families Act.

Murray, D-Seattle, talked Wednesday with Julia Fulton, director of Cedarbrook, and parents Candace Mangold and Sarah Dexter of Port Townsend.

Mangold said she had to pull her children out of the center because her family doesn’t qualify for state subsidies and they couldn’t afford the $500 per month for child care on top of medical expenses. She decided to home-school instead.

“We don’t qualify for Head Start, we own a house, my husband works, we’re middle income, we should be able to do this,” Mangold said. “I know we’re paying to subsidize those who can’t afford it but we’re getting to the point where we can’t even pay.”

Both Mangold and Dexter said it was important to have their children enrolled in a place with a preschool program to ensure they would be ready for kindergarten.

“Our preschools should like our public schools,” Dexter said. “It’s practically required to have your kids in preschool before kindergarten.”

Murray agreed that getting children into early childhood education programs was important, and studies have shown it has huge benefits later in life.

“We need to get your children into kindergarten ready to learn,” Murray said.

Murray said the cost of child care is keeping families from working and hindering public education because students who enter kindergarten without a preschool background are already behind their peers.

Murray’s proposed bill states that only 7 percent of a family’s income should go toward child care. The rest should be funded by the state and federal government.

Due to a lack of full-time and weekend child care options, Dexter said she struggled to find full-time employment, but she wanted her daughter to be in an early childhood education program.

“It was hard to stretch a budget,” Dexter said. “When you’re making $15 per hour and spending $13 per hour on child care, you’re working for $2 per hour.”

That doesn’t include the cost of transportation because Cedarbrook is roughly a 15-minute drive from Port Townsend.

Currently, Dexter is a resident manager of a low-income apartment complex in Port Townsend. She said she and other residents struggle daily to keep jobs while also finding good child care options for their children.

“At least I know my daughter is getting meals here,” Dexter said. “At least I know she’s getting read to.”

Cedarbrook is the only licensed child care provider in East Jefferson County, according to Fulton. Fulton said there are plenty of in-home care options across the county, but many have wait lists or are difficult to find and verify without a personal reference.

Cedarbrook is a nonprofit offering full-day and summer care for toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children. Fulton said they also will be opening up an infant care option next month.

Cedarbrook employs roughly 11 people and is licensed to care for up to 65 children. Currently, 57 are enrolled.

“It’s not about the money to work here,” Fulton said. “We’re a nonprofit, so it’s about the families, but we barely make it. We pay our bills and we pay our teachers, and our teachers make barely anything.”

Fulton said Cedarbrook is already looking to increase the cost of private pay rates, the rates for families who aren’t using state subsidies, in the next few years just to stay open.

Murray said the goal of her bill is to bring down the cost of child care for both low-income and middle-class families, regardless of the number of children they have, and give all 3- and 4-year-olds access to preschool programs.

Murray said her bill would improve the pay and training for child care providers.

According to Fulton, most of the staff at Cedarbrook stays for only a year, and the reason for leaving is almost always pay.

Murray said she has 27 co-sponsors on the bill but doesn’t expect it to pass anytime soon.

“I’m not introducing this thinking we’re going to pass it in the next while,” Murray said. “I’m beginning the ground swell of support for this.”

As to how the program will be paid for, Murray said it’s a work in progress.

“The real question is, how can we not afford this?” Murray said.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@ peninsuladailynews.com.