Thank you, Irene. [Irene Roberts, President of the Washington State BPW Chapter].

I want to welcome all of you to Washington, D.C. Many of you have come long distances to be here this week, and I want to offer a special welcome to my friends from Washington State who are here with us today.

You know, looking over your agenda I see that you're spending a lot of time discussing the "Work-Life Balance." After your sessions this morning and tomorrow on "Work-Life Balance," I just have one request. When you finally figure out how to have a work-life balance, please share it with me because like all of you I've been trying to find it for years. [laughter]

I know that after this luncheon you're going to go out and meet with your Senators and Representatives on issues like taxes, E.P.I.C., and child care. The truth is we need you here to stand up for all the other women in your states including those women who will never have the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. because they're working two jobs, raising a family and just trying to get through each day. You are their voice. We need you here, and I want to welcome you.

This afternoon I want to say a few words about child care. Now recently I became a grandmother so child care has a little different meaning for me lately.

But over the years, I've seen the challenges that child care poses for so many families - and I've also seen what's at stake.

As both a mother and pre-school teacher, I've seen firsthand just how important those early years are to a child's development. I remember children arriving for the first day of pre-school. Almost immediately, I could tell which children had been in a high-quality preschool or child care program, and which children had been left in a setting that wasn't so great.

Many of the children who were not in high-quality programs came to school already behind their peers. I watched them struggle to catch up.

As all of you know so well, unfortunately, low-income parents are the least likely to find good, safe, affordable care for their children. We cannot condemn these children to a lifetime of trying to catch up.

But many parents don't really have a choice. Quality child care is either too expensive or not available, and it's even more difficult for parents who work the night shift or have infants.

In Washington State, we've worked hard to provide good child care options. Until recently, we were serving families up to 225% of poverty, whether they were welfare recipients or just working poor.

I say "until recently" because things changed last year with our state's enormous budget shortfall. As a result, our state cut eligibility from 225% to 200% of poverty. That could affect as many as 13,000 families. My state also had to increase the co-payments required from families, and it's eliminated funding for some important quality initiatives.

I mention what's happening in my state because states throughout the country are facing similar dilemmas. They're stuck in a Catch-22. Washington State has to cut another $2.5 billion from the budget, but - at the same time - more families are returning to the welfare rolls because they can't find jobs.

How are states going to address these budget shortfalls while also meeting the growing needs of working families?

Simply put, we need a greater federal investment in child care. We must strengthen the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant program by supporting quality improvements. We must provide better wages and professional development for child care providers. We must boost reimbursement rates. We need to support resource and referral agencies. And we need to address the needs of infants and toddlers -- as well as children with disabilities and those who need care during non-traditional hours.

These are critical investments to ensure no child is left behind.

Let me update you on where things stand. This year, Congress needs to reauthorize the welfare bill -- and the federal childcare funding that goes with it. As part of that process, I'm working hard to secure a substantial funding increase for America's working families so that high-quality childcare will be more accessible.

I believe that childcare, like K-12 education, must be viewed as an investment in the future of our country. The federal government - along with state and local officials - needs to provide the resources to make that investment.

But our government won't make that investment on its own. It's going to take leaders like you walking the halls of Congress and meeting with your representatives to make it happen.

Let me leave you with this thought. We've worked together on so many issues - from domestic violence to pay equity to contraception and beyond. We've won some battles. We've lost some battles, but we're not going to give up.

You are the voice for the women in your home state who may never get to join a BPW chapter. You are their advocate here in Congress. So in your meetings with your Senators and Representatives this afternoon be polite, share your stories and examples, but don't let'em off too easy because there's so much at stake. Thank you and good luck.