PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A pilot program for children in Multnomah County could be replicated across the country. This is the first year the Preschool For All program has gone into effect in the county and with others now following suit, advocates are already thinking bigger.

“As it turns out, it’s a very good investment,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who serves in Oregon’s 1st District and served as an advocate behind the program. “It helps the children, it helps families, and importantly, it helps the economy and actually saves costs over the long term.”

Earlier in the fall of 2022, the pilot program kicked off, serving more than 680 children county-wide, as they hope to expand that to 1,000 children in 2023, and eventually, every child. But advocates say it’s more than just preschool-aged children who are in need of care and early learning.

“We knew that every county in Oregon is a childcare desert in some way,” said Rep. Bonamici. “It’s particularly challenging for people with infants and to find infant care or people with irregular schedules.”

Washington County is now following suit with its own Preschool Promise program that is now enrolling. However, Bonamici hopes to take what they learn during these programs to Washington D.C.

“Here in Oregon and Multnomah County with Preschool For All, it’s a great model to look at to say, this is beneficial. Let’s replicate it,” said Bonamici.

She says they’re already working to secure federal funding to expand the program, coinciding with the $39 billion investment during the pandemic through the American Rescue Plan, but says there needs to be long-term solutions and funding.

Right now, the Multnomah County program is budgeted for $59 million in 2022 to cover costs for families and provide a living wage to encourage providers to continue these crucial services.

“We are prioritizing based on need,” Leslee Barnes, Director of Multnomah County’s Preschool and Early Learning, told KOIN 6 in September. “There is no income requirement, but we are prioritizing folks that are furthest from the opportunity right now.”

Bonamici says that as this hopefully takes off across the state and U.S., it can also be a driving force to the economy as women return to the workforce. She added that the investments into this program will also not only look at lowering costs and securing living wages to providers, but will also look at the facilities, themselves, and make sure they’re up-to-date and safe for kids.