Massachusetts Senate passes bill to make child care more affordable

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BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that supporters say would help make early education and child care more accessible and affordable at a time when the cost of care has posed a financial hurdle for families statewide.

The bill would expand state subsidies to help families afford child care. It would also make permanent grants that currently provide monthly payments directly to early education and child care providers.

Those grants — which help support more than 90% of early education and child care programs in the state — were credited with helping many programs keep their doors open during the pandemic, reducing tuition costs, increasing compensation for early educators, and expanding the number of child care slots statewide, supporters of the bill said.

“Child care in Massachusetts is among the most expensive. It equals sending a child to college,” Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said at a rally outside the Statehouse ahead of the Senate session. “We need to make child care and early education more affordable and accessible.”

The bill would help increase salaries and create career ladders so early educators can make their jobs a long-term career, while also stabilizing early education programs, Spilka said.

Alejandra De La Cruz, 34, a toddler teacher at Ellis Early Learning in Boston’s South End neighborhood, said she loves her job. But she said the center struggles to keep classrooms open because it’s hard to fill teacher vacancies.

“I cannot blame them for leaving. They deserve to earn a proper living,” said De La Cruz, who has worked at the center for three years.

“I look forward to a time when my salary meets the basic needs of my family including living much closer to where I work, buying healthier groceries and maybe even treating my family to a dinner at a restaurant once in a while,” she added.

The proposal would also expand eligibility for child care subsidies to families making up to 85% of the state median income — $124,000 for a family of four. It would eliminate cost-sharing fees for families below the federal poverty line and cap fees for all other families receiving subsidies at 7% of their income.

Under the plan, the subsidy program for families making up to 125% of the state median income — $182,000 for a family of four — would be expanded when future funds become available.

Spilka said the bill is another step in making good on the chamber’s pledge to provide high-quality educational opportunities to the state’s children from birth through adulthood.

The bill would create a matching grant pilot program designed to provide incentives for employers to invest in new early education slots with priority given to projects targeted at families with lower incomes and those who are located in so-called child care deserts.

The bill would also require the cost-sharing fee scale for families participating in the child care subsidy program to be updated every five years, establish a pilot program to support smaller early education and care programs, and increase the maximum number of children that can be served by large family child care programs, similar to programs in New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.