“Well, what are you going to do with your kids?”

That’s one of the first questions I got when I gathered a small group of people to talk about my first run for U.S. Senate. What I said back was, “I’ll do what every working parent does — figure it out, but I’m running because that’s exactly the kind of thing United States senators need to understand.”

For way too long, they haven’t, but we’re finally at a moment when that could change.

For decades, child care was a silent crisis that working parents have had to deal with all on their own. Parents — mostly moms — have always had to juggle child care under impossible circumstances: Calling that neighbor for a favor you hate to ask for, pleading with providers to bump you up on a waiting list, having to take time off work — or even quit your job — because you’re out of options. 

The constant struggle to find quality, affordable child care is one just about every parent knows all too well, but as I’ve heard from parents and providers across our state, the pandemic pushed the child care industry to the brink of total collapse.

Even with badly needed relief we added to the American Rescue Plan to shore up the child care industry, 13% of child care centers in Washington state were forced to permanently close their doors. It’s now more expensive and more difficult than ever before to find child care, and that’s keeping parents — again mainly women, and in particular women of color — from getting back to work. As the last national jobs report showed, workforce participation among women had dropped to its lowest level since February during the height of the pandemic. That’s unacceptable.

That’s why my proposal — embedded in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan — will do four main things:

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• Build up the supply of child care providers through federal grants, so parents don’t spend years on wait lists for quality child care.

• Dramatically lower the cost of child care for the vast majority of working families (up to 250% of state median income) by ensuring they spend no more than 7% of what they make on child care. For example, no family of four in Washington state making less than $254,000 would spend more than 7% of their income on child care. Families earning very low incomes would spend even less, or nothing at all. A family of four making $151,000 in Washington state would save $164 per week on child care — that will make an important difference.

• Support higher wages for child care workers, who are disproportionately women of color. Their work is critical. We need to finally pay them like it, because staffing needs have led to a severe shortage of child care options for families.

• Make universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds a reality, which is an absolutely essential investment in our kids’ futures and development.

What we are doing is rebuilding a badly broken child care industry from the ground up. I’m a former preschool teacher, so I know how much work goes into high quality child care, and I know we’ve got to get this right. That’s why, for the first three years, my plan will invest significantly to help states build more child care providers and raise provider wages. During that time, families will start getting the support they need to afford child care — subsidies would be available to families immediately and gradually expand eligibility to additional families each year, ensuring families who make less get help first.

Families will pay less, child care workers will earn higher wages and child care providers will be able to increase the number of children they can serve, so child care finally does what it’s intended to: Allow working parents to do their jobs knowing their kids are safe and taken care of.

Instead of telling parents, “You’re on your own — figure it out,” as we have done for too long, it’s time that we as a country say, “This is our problem, not just yours,” and “we’re in this together.”