Advocacy group works to solve childcare access issues in Benton and Franklin counties

KENNEWICK, Wash. – The latest Coronavirus Relief Bill provides $635 million dollars for childcare centers throughout Washington. It also gives families who make under $75,000 a year or, $150,000 if you file jointly, extra money for their children.

But, is this enough to keep local childcare centers up and running?

To find out what parents and businesses need in Benton and Franklin Counties, Community-Minded Enterprises has started a survey. It’s funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Commerce, to figure out how childcare can become more affordable, and accessible in the Tri-Cities region.

“Not only bring awareness to the needs of the early learning community but also find solutions for these common problems,” Brittany Hartikainen with CME said.

CME has an office in Pasco, which is working on Child Care Aware Eastern Washington. Hartikainen said Benton and Franklin Counties face many issues in the childcare sector.

“We’re seeing a lot of families not being served because traditional childcare hours don’t actually meet their needs. One parent just ends up not working because the cost of childcare is too high,” she explained.

RELATED: Affordable daycare is lacking in Washington state, officials say

When it comes to affordability, Brittany said it’s not daycares’ fault; it costs a lot to keep a licensed and quality center open.

“And then you add the global pandemic and all the COVID restrictions,” she added.

Brianna Kimsey with the YMCA Tri-Cities has seen the effects of the pandemic on working parents, so they’ve done their best to remain open.

“Our staff have really transitioned from childcare to teachers, parents, paras, IT techs; they’re just kind of doing everything,” the Director of Youth Development explained.

Kimsey said they’re grateful for funding programs that have helped them continue to offer childcare and after-school programs but there’s several facilities locally that could use more money.

“We are very appreciative where that we’re able to continue to run our program that we are comfortable with, but there is always, always room for more grant money opportunities,” she said.

This is why Brittany and her team have put out the community survey, you can fill it out here.

Their hope is to create a discussion group among several community members and show state lawmakers that childcare deserves more attention and assistance.

“Our kids are our future, they’re our youngest and most vulnerable citizens of our state and we gotta (sic) make sure they’re taken care of,” she said.

To take the survey in Spanish, click here.