Sen. Patty Murray leads a discussion at the Everett Fire Department’s Rucker station on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sen. Patty Murray leads a discussion at the Everett Fire Department’s Rucker station on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sen. Murray seeks aid for Snohomish County’s fentanyl, child care crises

The U.S. senator visited Everett to talk with local leaders on Thursday, making stops at the YMCA and a roundtable with the mayor.

EVERETT — Sen. Patty Murray wants to secure $4.5 million in federal dollars to help Snohomish County address its growing fentanyl and child care crises.

Murray, one of the top-ranking Democrats in the Senate, visited Everett on Thursday to discuss her plans with local leaders. She toured the YMCA of Snohomish County, then held a roundtable on the fentanyl epidemic with Mayor Cassie Franklin, fire and police officials, and more than 25 first responders at the fire station on Rucker Avenue.

Murray is asking Congress to approve the cash influx for Everett to strengthen its alternative response team for behavioral and mental health issues. She also wants to secure nearly $1 million to help the YMCA of Snohomish County expand its child care and early education programs. As chair of the Senate’s appropriations committee, Murray is in the final weeks of negotiations in Congress to determine this year’s federal spending.

In Everett, firefighters administered the opioid-reversing medication naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, nearly 600 times last year.

Sen. Patty Murray meets and greets following a discussion at Everett Fire Department’s Station 1 about the city’s opioid crisis Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sen. Patty Murray meets and greets following a discussion at Everett Fire Department’s Station 1 about the city’s opioid crisis Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“Our first responders are reviving people multiple times, sometimes the same person multiple times a night,” said Julie Willie, the city’s community development director.

Last year, at least 300 people died from overdoses in Snohomish County, a 4.2% increase from 2022, according to the medical examiner’s office. Opioids caused 80% of those deaths, with 76% involving fentanyl. The synthetic opioid, about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, killed at least 226 people across the county last year.

If approved, the federal money would support an alternative response in Everett when police, fire or other emergency health services are unavailable or not the best care option. Everett has established on-site social workers at the public library and fire department to help people in mental and behavioral health crises, including those with opioid addiction. The city’s American Rescue Plan Act money and an Association of Washington Cities grant were enough to jump start the program with four social workers last year, but not enough to expand the program and keep it going long-term.

Everett is also using some of its opioid lawsuit settlement money to develop EMOTE, or Emergency Mobile Opioid Treatment Everett. Under the program, expected to launch this summer, a team of addiction specialists will travel the city to connect with patients and provide on-demand medical treatment.

The proposed funding for Everett is part of Murray’s effort to boost federal investments to combat opioid abuse nationwide.

“At the federal level, we are looking at everything from helping communities with response, to how we can have preventative services available and also how we can help stop the precursor drugs coming into our border,” she said.

Meanwhile, the YMCA hopes to use $943,000 in federal support to help increase staff wages and create five more early learning centers in Everett, Marysville, Monroe, Mukilteo and Stanwood.

Most zip codes in Snohomish County are considered child care deserts, according to data from the state Department of Children, Youth and Families. The county and its cities have allocated more than $20 million to increase child care access, but there’s still a need for at least 9,600 slots. And even when there are spots, they’re expensive. Early age child care and learning centers cost about 13% to 21% of the median monthly income in the county, according to a report Child Care Aware of Washington published last June.

“Child care really is in crisis here in this community and across the country,” Murray said. “It’s a crisis for families who can’t find child care, or for the kids who are not in a safe place. It’s a crisis for our businesses who can’t hire people because they don’t have any child care and they can’t come to work.”

About 150 providers in Snohomish County shuttered during the pandemic. Costs to run child care and early learning centers are “sky high,” said Peyton Tune, president of the local YMCA.

Sen. Patty Murray looks over the playground outside the Everett YMCA during a tour of the facility Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sen. Patty Murray looks over the playground outside the Everett YMCA during a tour of the facility Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Startup costs for a new center can add up to $2.2 million. The YMCA’s early learning program currently operates at a net loss, and the nonprofit would need to spend about $470,000 more each year to provide equitable wages to early learning staff. Staff make $8,730 less than the region’s average wage, and at least $16,993 less than other educators with the same qualifications, according to YMCA data.

“If we increase the cost, that has to be covered by somebody, likely the family,” said Jennifer Willows, the YMCA’s chief development officer. “And all that does is increase the burden on a family who already is stretched.”

Murray has championed the Child Care for Working Families Act, a federal measure to ensure families pay no more than 7% of their salary on child care, educators earn livable wages and communities have more child care options. The proposed act would provide federal subsidies to child care and early learning centers while keeping costs low for families. But after seven years, the bill still hasn’t passed.

Congress must decide on a final spending deal, including Murray’s plan to allocate millions to Everett and the YMCA, by March 1.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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