This could be it for President Joe Biden’s signature domestic initiative, the Build Back Better Act. After months of negotiations, the Democrats still haven’t wrangled their narrow majority to pass the $2 trillion social and environmental bill. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia gave the legislation a death sentence when he told “Fox News Sunday” that he “cannot vote to continue this piece of legislation.”
The Build Back Better Act is giant. If Democrats can deliver on their promises, the act would put $400 billion toward universal preschool, $194 million toward paid family and medical leave, and $555 billion toward the largest effort to combat climate change in U.S. history.
Monday afternoon, Seattle’s U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda urged Senate Democrats to pass the act.
They spoke in front of Hullabaloo Preschool, a childcare center that suffered greatly throughout the economic challenges of the pandemic, to emphasize the importance of the bill’s childcare investments locally.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 health crisis, childcare in Seattle and statewide was expensive and hard to come by. The Economic Policy Institute ranked Washington the ninth least affordable state for child care in 2019. Right now, childcare costs Washington families almost $8,000 more per year than in-state tuition at our public colleges. And that’s if you can even find childcare. At the presser, Mosqueda described Seattle as a “childcare desert.”
“There were more doggy daycares opening downtown Seattle than there were child care daycares,” Mosqueda said of pre-pandemic Seattle.
When COVID-19 hit, an industry that clearly could not pursue virtual alternatives scrambled to stay operational despite shoe-string budgets and health concerns. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, the nonprofit Child Care Aware of Washington said that more than 650 child care centers shut down.
Hullabaloo, a small preschool Jenny Lowery runs out of her home in the Central District, is still feeling the weight of the pandemic as children under the age of 5 are not eligible for vaccines. She said she and the children spend the bulk of their days outside, rain or shine. To accommodate this, Lowery invested in a shed, an outdoor sink, and air purifiers for when the children nap inside the house.
“The cost of operating a high-quality childcare program is staggering,” Lowery said. “Add these costs to the extra supplies and programs needed around COVID and it becomes close to impossible. The work being done by this team is what's helping keep it possible.”
Earlier this year, the council approved a plan to dole out one-time payments of up to $835 to around 3,500 childcare workers by New Years Day as part of the Seattle Rescue Plan. After 21 months in the pandemic, that almost amounts to a 25 cent pay bump per hour for full-time workers. Mosqueda said that the Build Back Better Act can help build on this foundation.
Mosqueda called on Manchin – who she said is “single-handedly” harming working families, childcare providers, and small businesses – to vote in favor of the act.
“From West Seattle to West Virginia, we need childcare and we need it now,” Mosqueda said.
Moderate Democrats also looked to divert responsibility for Build Back Better’s imminent failure. The New Democrat Coalition, a caucus of about 100 House moderates chaired by Washington’s Rep. Suzan DelBene, doubled down on its unanimous support of Biden’s key legislation. According to DelBene, “failure is not an option,” and the caucus is still at the table ready to reach an agreement.
Manchin, who wields unearthly power as one random dude, does not want to compromise. He wants to pursue a whole new bill that could take months and still fail, according to Politico.
From her words at the press conference, Jayapal does not seem interested in Manchin’s suggestion.
“I'm going to continue to work on legislation, but we're also going to call on the President to take executive action and to take it immediately,” Jayapal said. “We can't wait another year or six months for us to pass Build Back Better.”