Teresa Mosqueda had read about Seattle’s child care crunch — the excruciating wait-lists and the eye-popping costs. Then she became pregnant.
“To see it in a report is one thing,” the City Council member said. “To call through a list of providers that the city gave me and hit a dead end and then go to Google and just search ‘child care’ … is a whole other experience.”
That whole other experience is what she and Councilmember M. Lorena González are carrying with them at City Hall as they pursue policies meant to help new mothers and babies, including child care-compatible development, child care subsidies and workplace changes. As the council’s only at-large members, representing all Seattle, Mosqueda and González are among City Hall’s most influential leaders.
Seattle has never had a council member become a new mother while in office before, as officials can best tell (the city’s archivist researched the question but can’t be sure because it’s not directly addressed in records). With both Mosqueda and González now expecting, there soon will be two.
“When we say ‘representation matters,’ it’s not just a number on a piece of paper or a statistic being tracked by political nerds,” González said. “It’s because you bring to government perspectives that were never prioritized.”
Mosqueda will take parental leave next month, and González will later do the same. They may cast some votes remotely while away, under protocols updated last year to allow participation by phone, “with an eye toward making sure our rules were family friendly,” González said.
Both advocated for Washington’s recently-passed law allowing new parents to take 12 weeks with pay; Mosqueda plans to take three months and Gonzalez at least two, while aides continue their work.
There are drawbacks to speaking out about being pregnant, say the council members. They want to maintain some privacy. They don’t want to be pigeonholed as single-issue politicians, noting they began working on matters related to mothers and children long ago and are leaders in other areas.
Mosqueda worked in public health and labor-movement politics previously and has championed worker rights on the council. González was a civil-rights lawyer and heads the council’s public-safety committee.
“I’m not going to lie — I did have a moment when I wondered whether I was going to be able to define myself based on who I am and not based on simply being a mom,” González said. “I’ve only ever defined myself as a professional woman who’s strong and a workaholic.”
But there also are reasons the council members want to speak out: Mosqueda and González say they can inspire other women and help the council learn what laws to pass in a growing city where kids are making a comeback, rebounding past 100,000 recently.
Mosqueda wants to join other example setters, she said, mentioning Jessyn Farrell, who gave birth as a Washington state representative in 2013 and later brought her child onto the House floor.
The city has had 28 women as council members through time. Jenny Durkan is the first woman to serve as mayor since the 1920s.
“It’s nice to know we’re pushing the envelope in terms of showing up and being your whole self,” Mosqueda said. “People like us who are trying to both serve the public and start families, we can do both.”
Still, there haven’t been a huge number of role models locally for new mothers in political office, considering how progressive Seattle is supposed to be, González said.
“We certainly haven’t reached the promised land,” she said. “But we’re headed in the right direction to change the culture in politics, which is still very much dominated by white men and older people.”
Mosqueda is working on a resolution related to allowing city employees, in certain situations, to bring their infants to work. Studies have shown that to be a healthy practice and the option could help retain workers, she said.
She sponsored a budget amendment last year adding $100,000 to help open a downtown child care center mostly for the city’s employees. The area needs more child care options and government should help, Mosqueda said. King County has a center in a building blocks from City Hall.
The council member is working with the Durkan administration on the project. Though Mosqueda doesn’t intend to send her own child to the new center, “getting something open in 2020 would be a huge win,” she said.
Were Seattle to provide child care access, the city could better encourage more private employers to do the same, Mosqueda said.
“We’ve seen the city study child care at City Hall three times now and three times the result has been no action,” she added. “Let’s do it.”
When the council approved denser housing for 27 neighborhoods this year, Mosqueda and González added a provision allowing developers to build slightly larger when they include child care centers in their buildings.
They also pushed to require child care centers at the city’s Mercer Mega Block site when the council approved its sale to a developer this month.
Mosqueda is still on a child care wait list that she signed up for during an earlier pregnancy last year that led to a miscarriage, she mentioned, saying the anecdote demonstrates how long waits can be.
“I’m on multiple lists now and I’m not sure where we’ll end up,” she said.
When she talks to business owners during neighborhood visits, they bring up child care as a major concern, Mosqueda said.
“Workers are having to commute into the city and are super stressed about getting back home to pick up their kiddos,” she said. “When we think about creating an inclusive city, it’s not only about workers being able to live in the city, it’s about making sure workers can access child care in the city.”
Child care in Seattle can cost more per month than a mortgage partly because well-intended but strict state regulations are discouraging some people from working as providers and preventing some centers from opening, particularly in urban areas, González said.
“There are requirements around not being close to places where liquor and cannabis are sold and around having enough open space,” she said. “That can be difficult in a city like Seattle.”
Some child care providers have also attributed cost increases partly to Seattle’s $15 minimum-wage law and sky-high commercial rents – levers City Hall has more control over.
There should be more child care subsidies provided to low-income households by the state and possibly by Seattle, González said. The city spends more money to help preschool-aged children thrive than on toddlers, even though both phases are important, she said.
Because child care is so expensive, many mothers who want to keep working can’t afford to, the council member said. That means they miss out on Seattle’s booming economy, and gender inequities are perpetuated. Such challenges disproportionately affect women of color, she said.
“I have health-care coverage that’s amazing. I’m employed. My husband is employed,” González said. “But there are many families experiencing extreme poverty in this city and struggling to make ends meet every day.”