BOSTON - Parents are struggling to find reliable and affordable child care as many providers face challenges staying afloat amid the deepening economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
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.
During a live-streamed town hall Tuesday night, organized by the Northeastern Massachusetts chapter of The Common Start Coalition, parents, educators and child care providers talked about the challenges and called for more state funding and resources.
Child care centers are financially strained after reopening following months of being shutdown, and advocates say the cost of caring for kids under the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols are putting some out of business.
“Providers are going under, they’re closing classrooms and programs,” said Lauren Kennedy, co-founder of Neighborhood Villages, a group that advocates for increased public funding for early education. “And what that will mean is that as families return to work, which many already are, child care and early education providers will no longer be there because we’ve let them go insolvent.”
Child 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 an uptick in COVID-19 infections.
Sue Todd, president and CEO of Pathways for Children, a Gloucester-based child care provider with locations across the North Shore, said the industry is in a “crisis situation” in terms of finding new workers.
“Tomorrow I could open three additional classrooms if only I could find teachers,” she said.
Todd said federal and state funding for child care has been lackluster, and her organization has had to rely on donations. She said the private sector needs to do more.
“The funding stream is broken. It has been for decades,” she said. “Until we can get corporate America at the table and providing support, we’re not going to succeed.”
Vanessa Alvarado, of Lynn, said she and her husband have struggled to find affordable day care for her two preschool-age children. The couple has even looked in New Hampshire for a seat in a program.
“Massachusetts just isn’t a friendly place for working parents,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to go out of state to find child care.”
Lawmakers are looking to plow more funding into the state budget to support state-run child care services.
A Senate version of the $46 million spending package for the current fiscal year, debate on which got underway Tuesday, would substantially increase funding for state-supported child care, by about $85 million over the previous fiscal year.
The Senate plan also includes $25 million for grants to cover the costs of child care operations, provide incentive pay for educators, and hire new staff. It sets aside another $40 million for parents to cover fees for subsidized child care.
A previously approved House budget also includes additional funding for early education and child care.
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, vice chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, was one of several lawmakers who participated in Tuesday night’s virtual town hall. He said the Legislature is aware of the issues facing child care and is working on solutions.
“I can tell you this is an important topic at the Statehouse, from leadership right on down,” Tucker said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com