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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Child Under 2? GOP Plan Would Let Parents On Welfare Delay Work Requirement

Colin Fogarty
Northwest News Network files

Washington Senate Republicans are looking for ways to save money on state subsidized child care for low-income families. And they think they’ve found a way.

Currently parents on welfare in Washington who have a child under age one get an exemption from the requirement that they must look for work. Now Senate Republicans want to expand that exemption to families with a child under age two.

In doing so, they say the state could save nearly $20 million in child care costs over the next two years.

“This seems like a win-win to me,” said John Braun, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

“Look this seems like good policy to allow a parent to stay with a child during the first two years,” he said. “And by the way, when we do that that [it] frees up additional resources that we can reinvest more wisely around the state.”

On the surface, the idea appeals to Democrats like Ruth Kagi, chair of the House Human Services Committee.

“We know that bonding and attachment and all of that is terrible important particularly in the first couple of years of a child’s life,” she said.

But Kagi has a number of concerns. For instance, she noted that welfare benefits run out after five years. That means a parent who stays home with a child for two years would have at most three years of benefits remaining.

“If you say ‘don’t do anything for two years,’ you’re going to have less of an ability to get the education you need and to find employment to get you and your child out of poverty,” Kagi said.

Kagi said that might not be enough time. Senate Republicans are proposing a number of changes to save money in the state’s subsidized child care and welfare programs.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."