JENNIFER SIMPSON, who runs a family daycare in Southbridge, will have lost more than $33,000 in tuition money by the time she reopens August 31.
She has spent nearly $6,000 preparing to reopen – buying expensive gates to divide her space, purchasing protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and buying extra art supplies and shelving.
Simpson, who is getting by on unemployment benefits and her husband’s income, is frustrated that the state is offering reopening grants to daycares that accept children with state subsidies, but not to businesses like hers whose families pay privately.
While she could raise tuition prices, Simpson said she doesn’t want to do that because many of the middle-class families she serves are already hurting due to the pandemic.
“A lot of them been out of work just as we have,” she said. :”Now they have to pick up the slack for the state not assisting?”
Childcare providers – who are vital to letting working parents return to the office – were hard-hit by the mandated closures in March and are facing significant costs to reopen. State officials say they must use their limited funding to prioritize childcares that serve the most vulnerable children, those who are eligible for state subsidies. But private pay providers say they need help, too. Without additional assistance, some are likely to close.
Already, 163 early education providers have told the Department of Early Education and Care that they plan to close permanently. Others have not yet formalized their reopening plans. Of the state’s approximately 8,200 childcare providers in pre-COVID times, 5,600 received approval to reopen as of August 11 and 800 are awaiting approval.
“I’m very afraid that we will lose significant capacity to care for children,” said US Rep. Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat who has been advocating for more federal funding for childcare. “This was a system under great stress and suffering from underinvestment before the pandemic, and, like with so many issues, the pandemic has exacerbated the trends that were already moving in the wrong direction.”
The federal CARES Act gave Massachusetts $45 million for childcare. The Department of Early Education and Care and the Legislature decided to use that money to fund emergency childcare, which remained open during the pandemic, and for grants to childcare providers that receive state subsidies to care for children who are poor or otherwise vulnerable, such as those in the foster care system.
Recently, 272 private pay family childcare providers sent a joint letter to numerous state and federal officials asking why they were shut out from receiving federal or state aid. About half the state’s providers get no public subsidies. Statewide, centers lost an estimated $250 million a month in private pay tuition during the pandemic, according to the Department of Early Education and Care.
Lawmakers did create a public-private trust fund, with $500,000 in public money, that will accept donations to help childcare providers find access to funding. An economic development bill, which remains in a conference committee, calls for the creation of a commission to examine the financial impacts of COVID-19 on early education.
Clark has called for $50 billion in short-term relief for childcare providers through the Community Development Block Grant Program. That money, if approved, would be available to private pay providers. She has also called for a $10 billion program of grants to help childcare providers make facility improvements. Both proposals have passed the House, but not the Senate.
Clark said the $45 million Massachusetts got from the CARES Act wasn’t enough. “With this [additional federal money], we hope it can have a broader use by all types of providers and after -chool care providers so that we can really shore up the system and stabilize it,” Clark said.