New bill promises ‘universal’ affordable child care, would cap costs for most families

Lawmakers looking to “even the playing field” in a state that carries some of the highest costs for child care in the nation have filed a bill advocates say would create a universal system of affordable, high-quality child care.

“The cost for child care for too many families is just astronomical,” said state Sen. Jason Lewis, one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “At $20,000 to $30,0000 per year, it’s out of control.”

Under the bill Lewis filed Tuesday, child care would be free for families earning less than 50% of the state’s median income. Middle-class families earning more would qualify for subsidies and child care costs would be capped at 7% of their total income.

Massachusetts currently has the second-highest costs for care of infant children in the nation at nearly $21,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The proposed program covers early child care for children up to 5 years old and would also cover after-school and out-of-school time for kids up to 12, and for special needs students up to 15 years of age.

But the bill comes with a hefty price tag upward of $2 billion by early rough estimates.

The plan would roll out over five years — following a similar structure laid out in the Student Opportunity Act — infusing hundreds of millions in early education as it gradually ramps up funding.

Lewis called it an “investment of public dollars that will pay public dividends for our state over time.”

Lewis said the bill will also serve to “even the playing field” as the state emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and starts to heal its battered economy.

The “Common Start” bill also calls for increased wages for child care workers and would shake up how child care centers are funded, granting them direct funding and greater stability, Lewis said.

The bill is backed by the Common Start Coalition, a group of more than 120 groups that includes part of the progressive lobby that successfully pushed for a higher minimum wage and paid family medical leave.

“As we recover from the pandemic, making this generational investment in children, families, providers, and early educators will help combat racial and gender inequities, reduce income inequality, and jumpstart our economy; it’s the single best investment we can make in Massachusetts’ future,” said Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice and statewide director of the Common Start Coalition.

Fastino was one of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition’s co-leaders who helped to pass the wage legislation in 2018.

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