Comment: Three bills that help families would help us all

Legislation that would aid the state’s foster kids and working families makes economic and moral sense.

By Emily Wicks / For The Herald

I want to tell you about a young woman named Esther Taylor, a college junior who grew up in foster care and kin care.

She testified in a recent House committee meeting and was brave enough to share her story in public. If a Catholic charity hadn’t stepped up to help her pay rent, she might have become homeless after her work hours were recently cut in half.

Esther isn’t alone. While all families are struggling right now during this pandemic, young adults are especially hit hard, since they don’t have the savings of older workers. Former foster children who age out of the system have it even tougher.

And in many ways, Esther beat the odds. Foster children are far less likely to attend college, and many do become homeless. And they are more likely than their peers to be arrested or imprisoned.

Esther’s story still haunts me. We need to do better for her; and for all the children and young adults in Washington state.

We spend far more taxpayer dollars cleaning up problems after they’ve festered than it would cost to help people avoid those issues in the first place.

We pay mass sums of money to put children in hotel rooms and nearly nothing to provide housing and food security to the parents we are taking them away from. Yes, simply being homeless or food insecure is considered neglect. And taking a child away from their loving parent can create trauma in children that will likely never get addressed.

So let’s do the right thing. It takes a village to raise a child. And we all know that no parent or guardian does it alone.

Here’s what it will take:

Extended Foster Care is a proven way to save taxpayer dollars while giving young adults like Esther a chance to succeed in school and life. We need to improve and expand this effort to give these young people a fair shot in life.

A Fair Start for Kids (House Bill 1213) is an important step forward, meeting the needs of our businesses, families and communities. Today, lack of affordable child care is depriving our workers of $14.7 billion in personal earnings, taking $57 billion from Washington state businesses in reduced output, and $35 billion from our state’s productivity.

This legislation not only makes sense for our paramount duty to provide education, and our responsibility to support our families and communities, it makes economic sense as well.

Paid Family Leave (House Bill 1073) would expand this successful program. No worker should have to make the heartbreaking choice between paying the bills and taking care of a newborn baby or a relative.

The Working Family Tax Credit (House Bill 1297) is the state equivalent of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a popular and proven program. This session, I’m supporting a modern rebate that will transform our tax code and help hard-working people get some help to keep up with the cost of living.

All of these ideas will meet with resistance from wealthy special interests. They’ll hire lobbyists and run radio and TV ads trying to scare you. They’ll say the goals are noble, but we just can’t pay for it right now, or the way these pro-family ideas are funded is simply unworkable.

They will say that it will cost you, but the numbers say otherwise.

Don’t fall for the same old tricks. It’s pro-jobs to make sure working parents have access to affordable child care. Many can’t work without it.

It’s the smart thing to do, economically, to help foster kids not fall into homeless, to get an education and a good career. It’s also happens to be the right thing to do.

Tell them no one ever says “we can’t afford it” when billionaires and giant corporations get tax breaks and credits, so why is it suddenly a problem when working families get one?

We can do all of these things. And we should do them. All of them.

Because “family values” are empty words unless we actually follow through and value families.

State Rep. Emily Wicks, D-Everett, represents the 38th Legislative District. She serves on the House Children, Youth and Families Committee.

Correction: In an earlier version of this commentary, an editing error incorrectly gave the current status of House Bill 1297; it has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

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