Early in the coronavirus pandemic, PROTEC17 Union Representative Denise Cobden started noticing a trend as she returned phone calls from her members at King County. 

With schools closed, parents – most often mothers – were concerned about how they were going to work and take care of their school-aged children with limited childcare options available. This was particularly true when one or both parents were deemed essential workers and not able to telecommute, but it was also becoming an issue with telecommuting parents trying to juggle their work, meetings, childcare and remote schooling. 

“With many of our members doing essential work either on-site or remotely, the need for help balancing the difficult demands of work and family has been made abundantly clear by the pandemic,” said Cobden. 

The data is now showing that COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on women in the workplace, especially those who are parents. Many women are quitting as a result of the stress of managing work and online schooling or because they cannot afford or secure adequate childcare. Unemployment rates for women are on the rise over the last few months and the women’s labor participation rate has been falling full percentage points. 

“This month is a disaster for working women – 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force; 216,000 men did,” said an October 2020 article by Mike Madowitz, economist at the Center for American Progress. 

Although COVID-19 has been a struggle for all parents, it has had a disproportionate impact on women. Couple that with childcare affordability – which can cost more than half the income of a single parent in Washington State – and it becomes a recipe for disaster for working parents. 

The idea of an Emergency Childcare Program was brought up in the Joint Labor Management Insurance Committee (JLMIC), the group that negotiates health insurance benefits for King County, by Cobden and union partners. Unions in the JLMIC and King County management liked the idea and, quickly worked on designing a program that would provide immediate relief to help parents during the pandemic. The resulting $9 million fund can now be used by King County employees to cover emergency childcare expenses during the current school year. 

Because COVID-19 has been deemed a national emergency, the program is tax-free. The $9 million will be distributed on a sliding scale, allowing for parents making less than $80,000 to receive the program maximum of $5,000 per child per school year. The fund covers childcare expenses such as licensed and un-licensed daycares, pre-schools, school-aged programs and in-home care for children under the age of 12. It also covers children over the age of 13 with documented special needs or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

PROTEC17 members are expressing their gratitude for the new benefit. 

Caroline VanHarmelen, a Green Building Project Manager at King County Metro, returned to full time work last March only to lose the childcare she and her partner had arranged when the pandemic began. After juggling their jobs and childcare all spring and summer, they found a nanny-share for the school year – but it cost 50% more than what they had previously paid. 

“We’re so grateful for the COVID-19 Childcare Reimbursement for offsetting the additional childcare costs that we have faced due to the pandemic,” said VanHarmelen. “Thank you PROTEC17 for advocating for our families.” 

PROTEC17 is proud to have been a part of implementing this progressive benefit in King County because we all benefit when our fellow colleagues, friends, and neighbors are able to find some relief in these difficult times.