A nonprofit’s study is claiming that Washington’s child care and early learning system is currently under tremendous strain — a result of years of low state subsidy reimbursement rates coupled with the effects of the recession and the newly increased minimum wage.

According to a survey from Child Care Aware of Washington, nearly 60 percent of child care programs in the state report the increased minimum wage significantly increases operating costs, with over 50 percent reporting wage increases for more than half of their staffs.

Most programs — 72 percent — say they will increase the rates families pay to try to make ends meet.

Almost 80 percent indicated the increase in the wage floor will raise operating costs either significantly or somewhat, and some fear it will force them to close their doors. The impact of the increased minimum wage is intensified for programs that care for the most vulnerable children, because these programs rely on Washington’s child care assistance program.

 “We choose to serve all families, regardless of their ability to pay full price. However, the amount of coverage we receive for WCCC is so poor that it makes a harmful challenge for us. We receive about 40 percent of what the true cost of care is. I'm worried we will need to limit our number of [subsidy] families in the future if something doesn't change,” said one center director who took the survey.

At the same time the number of child care providers in WA has declined by 22 percent since 2011, according to CCA of WA’s 2016 Child Care Data Report, released today. Most of this decline has been in family home child care (FCC) programs, primarily due to the Great Recession that hit Washington later than most of the rest of the country. FCC programs have not yet rebounded to pre-recessions levels.

“Washington State needs to invest more in our child care and early learning system. It provides an essential service to our state’s economy, allowing parents to work and preparing our youngest children for success in school. Currently, families are paying more on average for a year of child care than the cost of a year of state college tuition. We are working with our partners to support increased state investment in child care and early learning to benefit every child,” said Robin Lester, chief executive officer of CCA of WA.