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Bill Would Create Universal Child Care In Mass.

As child and after-school providers struggle financially during the pandemic, some state lawmakers are proposing a massive influx of funding to lower financial burdens on families and increase quality of care.

The Common Start legislation filed Tuesday would create a system of universal child and after-school care in the state, creating more predictable funding for providers and subsidizing costs for all families. The bill would infuse the child and after-school system with an estimated $600 million over five years, according to one of the bill's sponsors.

Upon full implementation, families earning less than half the state's median income would qualify for free child care. Families earning more than that would pay on a sliding scale, with none spending more than 7% of their household income on child care. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a similar plan as a presidential candidate.)

"At foundational level, it's an economic development bill for the Commonwealth," bill co-sponsor state Sen. Susan Moran said. "It's going to allow parents to get back into the workforce. It's going to allow children to get a jumpstart on their education."

Child care costs in Massachusetts are among the most expensive in the nation. Since the pandemic began exacting its economic toll, women have been leaving the U.S. workforce more rapidly than men.

As of November, 18% of child care providers across the state had yet to reopen since the governor ordered temporary closures in March of 2020; 5% of providers have closed permanently and relinquished their licenses. Of those that have reopened, enrollment varies. According to a state survey, only 66% of the available seats have children enrolled in them. What remains to be seen is whether the lower enrollment numbers could become a more permanent change due to lost wages or family discomfort with group care as a result of the pandemic.

Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice and statewide director of the Common Start Coalition, is concerned providers and families will "continue to struggle" if the legislation doesn't pass.

"It has been a crisis [for years]," Fastino said. "The cost is a crisis for the families, and the lack of subsidies to meet the needs for the providers and early educator. ... Hopefully, we're coming out of that crisis."

Fastino also helped successfully push for raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $15 an hour by 2023 and paid family medical leave.

The child care measure would also provide funding for providers based on enrolled capacity, rather than attendance. Because of the pandemic, many providers in Massachusetts are seeing increased expenses or even losing money as they stay open. 

The state has been paying child care subsidies based on enrollment and picking up the parent portion of fees during the pandemic, at a cost of $6 million. Many providers and advocates have said that additional state support has buoyed those providers. But about half of licensed child care providers in Massachusetts do not accept state subsidies and only recently began to be eligible state support for purchasing personal protective equipment.

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Kathleen McNerney Twitter Senior Producer / Editor, Edify
Kathleen McNerney is senior producer/editor of Edify.

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