As ‘childcare cliff’ looms, thousands of Mass. children could lose access

Politics

Pandemic-era federal funding to support childcare is set to expire at the end of September, putting providers at risk of closing and driving prices up.

Children play and learn at the Nurtury center in Roxbury in February 2023. Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe

Thousands of Massachusetts families could lose access to child care at the end of the month without legislative action. Childcare funding from the American Rescue Plan Act is set to expire on Sept. 30, creating a “childcare cliff” that has parents and providers around the country worried about what the future may hold. 

In Massachusetts, just over 56,000 children are set to lose their care, with more than 1,800 childcare providers at risk of closing due to a lack of funding, according to an analysis from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. 

This could have wide-ranging consequences. As they would have to decrease their work hours or stay home altogether, Massachusetts parents could lose $219 million in earnings, according to the analysis. Employers could lose $252 million in productivity, and the state could be out of $9.4 million in income tax revenue. More than 5,800 childcare jobs could disappear. 

Even if programs do not close, parents could be facing higher price tags. Massachusetts is already one of the most expensive places in the country to find childcare, according to Care.com’s annual report on childcare costs. The Bay State is second only to Washington, D.C. when it comes to nanny prices and infant daycare costs. Massachusetts is third in babysitter costs behind Washington, D.C. and Hawaii. 

ARPA was passed in 2021, bringing $39 billion in emergency funding meant for the stabilization of the child care sector. More than $510 million in federal funding was allotted to childcare in Massachusetts, according to The Center for American Progress. 

Of that, $314.4 million supported the state’s Child Care Stabilization program. This gave payments to 2,440 childcare centers across the state for staffing costs as of Dec. 31, 2022, according to The Administration for Children and Families. In addition, 4,090 families with children received money to help with their rent or mortgage payments. Childcare centers in Massachusetts received average awards of $95,500 and families received average awards of $12,800. 

Lawmakers have taken some steps to address the situation. In the most recent state budget, $475 million was set aside for childcare grants. 

Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark and a host of other lawmakers recently introduced the Child Care Stabilization Act. This would provide $16 billion in mandatory federal funding each year for the next five years to continue the Child Care Stabilization Grant Program. 

“We can’t turn back now. Child care is economic infrastructure — it is critical to growing the economy by growing the middle class. We must urgently enact the Child Care Stabilization Act to protect the financial security of families and workers and maintain our progress in the fight for affordable, high-quality care for all,” Clark said in a statement. 

Legislation was introduced in both chambers last week, but a lack of Republican support means that its chances of passing through Congress are slim, AP reported. 

Nationally, more than 70,000 child care programs will likely close once the funding expires, The Century Foundation estimated. About 3.2 million children could lose their spots, and the childcare workforce would be depleted by about 232,000 jobs. With families picking up the slack, they would see about $9 billion a year in lost earnings. 

The $24 billion in ARPA funds that went towards the Child Care Stabilization Program impacted more than 200,000 childcare providers across the country, according to The White House. A survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that 92% of the providers that received stabilization grants owed their ability to stay open to the funding. 


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