BOSTON — Parents are struggling to find reliable and affordable child care as many providers face challenges staying afloat amid the ongoing economic fallout of the pandemic and worker shortages.
That’s according to a coalition of early education advocates who say Massachusetts isn’t doing enough to support the child care sector as more people return to work.
“Child care is one of the most pressing needs for families, especially for those who have the very lowest incomes,” Chelsea Sedani, director of advocacy at the Boston-based nonprofit advocacy group EMPath and a member of the Common Start Coalition, told members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
“Families we work with spend too much of their income on child care, which means they struggle to pay for other necessities and are at risk of losing their jobs or forfeiting education opportunities,” Sedani said.
Child care centers are financially strained after reopening after being shut down last year to prevent spread of the coronavirus, and advocates say low compensation and the rising costs of caring for children are putting some providers out of business.
Meanwhile, care providers are struggling to retain workers in an industry where the pay is traditionally low and the risk of getting sick is now elevated amid a rise in COVID-19 infections, advocates say.
“The cost of child care in Massachusetts is one of the highest in the nation yet the median income for an early childhood teacher is only $37,000,” Sarah Siah, president of the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children, told the committee. “This is barely considered a living wage in Massachusetts for one adult with children, and many of our educators make less than that.”
One proposal, which is backed by nearly 100 lawmakers, calls for creating a five-year statewide program that would allow low-income families to receive free early education and child care, and provide subsidized care for qualifying middle-income families.
Advocates say the plan would use a combination of direct-to-provider funding and financial assistance to reduce costs to families while increasing compensation for providers, which they argue will would increase the affordability and quality of early education and child care.
Backers of the proposal note the legislation does not include funding for the massive expansion of child care services, but point out that a windfall of federal pandemic relief funding could be headed to the state as part of a $2 trillion social services spending bill working its way through Congress.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, told the committee the pandemic has “exacerbated the shortfalls of unaffordable child care and its ruinous impact of parents – particularly mothers – being pushed out of the workforce.”
“Our children are missing out on vital development, especially after the last two years of social isolation they have been through,” she said. “We know that high-quality early education has a direct correlation to a child’s success, preparing our students for success in grades K-12 and into higher education and their entire adult lives.
“We must make high-quality early education accessible and affordable to all Massachusetts families,” she added.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.