Private pay childcare providers say they’re being forgotten

When the state required most daycares to close in the early days of the COVID pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker reassured providers that they would continue getting state subsidies during the closure.

“I thought to myself, he has no idea,” said Gina Tiberio Hamilton, a family childcare provider in Shrewsbury. “Fifty percent of family childcare providers don’t receive subsidies. We have nothing.”

Two-plus years later, daycare providers who are paid privately by families say they continue to feel left out, struggling for acknowledgement in policies that prioritize providers who take state subsidies.

“We had to introduce ourselves to stakeholders and legislators. They didn’t know we existed,” said Alyssa Kelley, a Plymouth childcare provider. “We’re trying to help them understand we’re all following the same regulations, doing the same things. We shouldn’t keep being divided.”

The recently proposed House budget played into the same narrative, proposing a large spending increase to help subsidized providers, but nothing for private pay providers. Legislators said it is a way to start improving the system, while prioritizing the most needy children.

“We have to start somewhere, and the subsidized programs serve our most vulnerable students and children,” said House Education Committee chair Alice Peisch.

But private pay providers say the parents they serve are struggling too. “Not everybody is wealthy,” Hamilton said. “A lot of our clients, grandma and grandpa, help pay tuition or they’re working two jobs, working overtime. I can’t say ‘We’re struggling because the cost of food and oil has gone up, you’re going to have to pay an extra $50 a week.’ It just doesn’t work.”

Massachusetts has around 7,500 licensed childcare providers, which includes both centers and family childcares that operate out of the caregiver’s home. According to pre-pandemic figures, about half received subsidies, in which the state pays the tuition of at least one low-income or otherwise at-risk child (for example, a foster child). These subsidies generally pay less than market rate. The rest of the providers are private pay, funded entirely by parent tuition.

According to a recent report by a special commission studying the economics of childcare, in fiscal 2022, around $991 million in childcare spending came from the state or federal government, while parents paid $1.27 billion.

Private pay providers have been eligible for Child Care Stabilization Grants during the pandemic, which several providers said have been helpful.

But nearly 1,400 childcare providers have closed since the pandemic, and the state commission report found that two-thirds of the closures were private pay providers. Only 6 percent of subsidized providers closed, compared to 28 percent of all private pay providers.

Hamilton runs a Facebook page for childcare providers and says she sees constant postings by providers deciding to shut down. “They’re so stressed out right now, they’re so tired of being disrespected that it’s just not worth it,” she said. “It’s been a long two years, and as private pay providers we feel like the red-headed stepchildren.”

The providers say they believe subsidies for low-income children should be increased – but they also have financial struggles. If families cut back how many days a week they need childcare, the provider is left with an open slot the other days. Sometimes children drop out mid-year due to changes in family circumstances, and it takes providers time to fill the spot. Beth Sidel, who cares for children in Montague, said she used to have waitlists, but in her region there seem to be fewer kids seeking care post-pandemic, so her enrollment has dropped.

Sidel said the children she cares for are also vulnerable. “I don’t think any one of us are saying low-income people shouldn’t have help. They should,” Sidel said. “What we’re saying is the middle class should be included. People one paycheck away from qualifying for a voucher shouldn’t be forgotten, and they’re getting left behind over and over again.”

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

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FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker pushes for tighter rules on bail and dangerousness. (Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The grandstand at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, the home of the Pittsfield Suns, is declared structurally unsafe and will be closed for the upcoming season. Portable bleachers are being brought in. (Berkshire Eagle)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Shriners Hospitals for Children in Springfield will close its remaining inpatient beds by the end of the year as part of a nationwide evolution toward outpatient clinics. (MassLive)

Researchers are looking into reports that people receiving the antiviral drug Paxlovid to treat COVID quickly improve and test negative for the virus only to then have symptoms reappear and test positive for COVID again a few days later. (Boston Globe

Unlike some of his Massachusetts delegation colleagues, Rep. Seth Moulton is holding off on criticizing the planned closure of the VA hospital in Northampton until he hears the VA make the full case for the move to Congress. (Boston Herald

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

At the urging of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Justice says it will appeal a Florida judge’s ruling that voided a mask mandate for public transportation. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

Gov. Charlie Baker backs Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s bid for a fifth term, saying he and the sheriff may disagree about Donald Trump but are in sync on policing and public safety. (Dartmouth Week)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Struggling Massachusetts farmers say a surtax on income over $1 million would hurt them. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

A group of Central Massachusetts parents is suing school officials over alleged physical and emotional injuries to their children caused by school mask mandates. (Telegram & Gazette)

ARTS/CULTURE

The development team for the BEAT tech campus located at the old Boston Globe headquarters is applying for an all-alcohol restaurant license, complete with an old Globe delivery truck serving as a bar cart. (Dorchester Reporter)

TRANSPORTATION

The eye-popping $402 million price tag of a new MBTA bus garage in Quincy is way out of line with similar transit structures elsewhere in the US and in Canada. (Boston Globe

MBTA officials apologize for their handling of the makeover of the Mattapan trolley line and promise to get the job done and keep the community informed as the work is completed. (Dorchester Reporter)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The federal bribery trial of the former chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Cedric Cromwell, begins this week in Boston. (Boston Globe

Police departments are struggling to find officers to fill vacant positions. (Patriot Ledger

MEDIA

A new study finds a big drop in local content when big companies take over news publications. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

PASSINGS

Former UMass Amherst chancellor Thomas Cole Jr. dies at age 81 in Atlanta. (Daily Hampshire Gazette