Healey Administration providing additional funding to avoid ‘childcare cliff’

At the end of September, federal funding came to an end for childcare centers across the country, which left childcare in question.
Published: Oct. 19, 2023 at 5:51 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - At the end of September, federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act came to an end for childcare centers across the country, which left care in question for over three million children, which is being called the childcare cliff. However, for at least the next year, early education providers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts don’t have to worry, thanks to grant funding from the Healey-Driscoll administration.

“It was detrimental for people to decide: am I going to go to work or am I going to pay for childcare?” asked Sheneya Johnson.

On September 30, federal funding for childcare expired, which creating a so-called childcare cliff for families across the country and it threatened the closure of tens of thousands of childcare centers and left parents to front the cost. In Massachusetts, that won’t be the case. The Healey-Driscoll Administration has allocated $475 million as part of Commonwealth Cares for Children, or C3 grants, which will replaced the federal government funding.

Massachusetts Early Education and Care Commissioner Amy Kershaw told Western Mass News in a statement:

“In our state we are ensuring that programs can stay open and serve families, supporting parents and caregivers to go to work or participate in education and training and setting up children to be successful in school and life.”

This funding is critical for parents like Johnson to be able to cover the cost of sending her son to daycare while both her and her son’s father work full-time.

“I would be afraid and that was what I was afraid of, just what would the increase be now? If I paid that in 2015, what am I going to pay now because we all know the cost of living has gone up significantly,” Johnson added.

Johnson’s four-year-old son is one of the 500 kids attending Square One in Springfield.

“We knew that this cliff was coming,” said Square One President and CEO Dawn DiStefano. “We anticipated that there would be a funding gap if the commonwealth was unable to identify the ability to backfill where the federal government was pretty upfront.”

DiStefano told Western Mass News that the cliff was a major concern for both her employees and families. Without the grant funding, Square One would have had to raise at least $1 million to stay in business, which is double their usual fundraising efforts.

“This has been a life-saving financial device to keep us open,” DiStefano explained. One hundred percent of the children we serve here at Square One will fall under a definition of potentially vulnerable. Their parents are working, most of them are working if not one job, they’re working multiple jobs. They are surviving. That is challenging and then you add on top of that the funding you need to put your children into full-time care.”

Since the end of the pandemic, the cost of sending your child to Square One is almost entirely covered. While the majority comes from government funding, there is still a gap, which Square One covers between fundraising and parent fees.

“Parents did not have a fee during the pandemic itself, but as we came to a post-pandemic, those parent fees charts were updated and the fees came drastically down. I think, on average, our parents are paying $5 a week,” DiStefano noted.

While DiStefano is grateful the state funding has helped them avoid the cliff, she said the western Massachusetts region receives significantly less funding than other areas of the state.

“We serve 500 children a day. All 500 of those children require additional services and resources, so when your rate is 52 percent lower than the highest paid region in the commonwealth, it does not come close to what you need for resources to care for children the way they need,” DiStefano said.

Western Mass News broke down the reimbursement rates across the state. For toddlers, the western Massachusetts region receives just over $61 in daily reimbursement, while other regions in the eastern part of the state receive between $85 and $90. Daily reimbursement rates are even lower for preschool age children. The western Massachusetts region receives approximately $46.50, while some regions in the eastern part of the state receive up to $70. DiStefano feels more financial resources should be given to this part of the state.

“Springfield is located in an area of Hampden County. That has been noted as having the highest social vulnerability index for the entire state. That means that students and families living in certain areas of Hampden County are at a 98 percent social vulnerability level,” DiStefano explained.

However, for now, parents in the Bay State don’t need to worry and Johnson said that’s something she is grateful for.

“With having the parent fee, that is one thing that I worry less about. It is great to have a great place for my child to go to and I’m not worried about them while I’m at work. I’m just worried about what I’m doing at work,” Johnson said.