BOSTON — As child care centers struggle to recover from the pandemic, and parents search for options as they return to work, lawmakers are proposing an overhaul of the industry.

A proposal to create a system of universal child care in the state over the next five years has more than 80 co-sponsors in the Legislature and would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the industry.

Backers say the proposal will provide expanded child care options for parents returning to work, and will help fill a void in early education opportunities that existed prior to the pandemic.

"The child care industry has really been hammered by the pandemic," said Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, who signed onto the proposal. "And parents lost options as they start to return to work. It's something we desperately need to address."

Under the plan, households earning less than half the state's median income would qualify for free child care. Households earning more than that would pay on a sliding scale that would be capped at 7% of their annual income.

The measure would provide funding for child care providers based on their capacity, replacing a system that now provides funding based on attendance.

To fund the changes, the plan calls for a massive infusion of more than $600 million into child care and after-school programs over the next five years.

Child care centers are still financially strained in the aftermath of last year's shutdown and advocates say the cost of caring for kids under the state's COVID-19 safety protocols are putting some providers out of business.

Education officials say part of the problem is that parents are continuing to keep kids home amid lingering concerns over the virus. That's impacting providers whose state and federal funding is largely tied to enrollment.

"We are seeing low enrollment as parents make choices that prioritize health and safety over sending their children to care settings," Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care, told lawmakers during a live-streamed budget hearing last week.

"It's jeopardizing our ability to sustain programs through recovery and ensure sure that they remain open and available to families as we come through the health and safety crisis," she said.

Earlier last week, members of the Common Start Coalition, a group of child care providers, advocates, labor unions and social justice groups, held a virtual rally calling on lawmakers to take action on the universal child care bill.

Lawmakers have filed dozens of other bills aimed at helping child care providers survive the pandemic.

In Congress, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, refiled a bill on Tuesday to invest $10 billion in child care over five years through grants that help providers renovate their facilities and adapt to the pandemic. The bill passed the House in the previous session but stalled in the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

Clark, who serves as assistant speaker of the House, said her proposal "recognizes child care for what it is — an essential piece of our economic infrastructure."

"Just like our roads and bridges, child care fuels our economy and allows parents, businesses and kids to thrive," she said in a statement. "We must make the long-term investments in this sector to ensure the collapse caused by COVID-19 never happens again."


Original story here.