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Melissa Morrow, left, checks the work of one of her students at Blossoms Early Learning Center Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Yakima, Wash.

The state has increased subsidy rates for Washington families with children at child care centers.

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families increased its subsidy rates for child care centers by 16% in July, according to a news release. Agency officials hope that will make it easier for families to find a center that accepts subsidized care, as centers will receive rates that better reflect the market.

The Legislature sets the subsidy rate for child care, said Nicole Rose, DCYF’s assistant secretary of early learning. Rates differ depending on if the child receives care from a center, in-home provider or family member, friend or neighbor.

DCYF recommends a subsidy rate to the Legislature based on survey data from providers on how much they charge. Families should be able to afford 85% of child care providers in their area with the subsidy rate, Rose said.

Rates differ by region, and Yakima and Kittitas counties are in Region 2. As of July, daily subsidy rates for a full day of child care are $55.68 for an infant, $42.44 for a toddler, $42.34 for a preschool-aged child and $31.74 for ages 5 to 12.

In October 2021, Washington widened the pool of families eligible for subsidized child care. Families can make up to 60% of the state’s median income and receive state assistance paying for child care.

Depending on financial circumstances, families may still have to pay some amount out of pocket for child care. Copays are capped at $115 for families making 60% of the state’s median income. And DCYF pays the full subsidy amount to the provider.

But child care providers still have a choice whether to accept a family that receives child care subsidies as a client. This increase may make families who receive subsidized care more attractive as clients.

“What we would maybe hope to see is that some of the rate increases means that maybe more providers will accept subsidies,” she said. “So, families may have more choice in the providers that they are going to.”

The data used to determine the new rates was based on a survey of child care providers from 2018, Rose said. Some child care providers have criticized the data as being out of date and not reflective of pandemic-related cost increases.

In a proposal for the next legislative session, DCYF will use data from a 2021 survey of providers to set the recommended rate, Rose said.

“So ideally, at the end of next session, what we would see is that something had passed that brings all provider rates — centers and homes — to the 85th percentile of the 2021 market rate survey,” she said.

That makes another subsidy increase possible.

The agency is federally required to conduct a market rate survey every three years. But Rose said it is in talks with providers to potentially change the agency’s methodology to focus on the true cost of care, not just the market rate.

Contact Vanessa Ontiveros at vontiveros@yakimaherald.com.

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