Michael P. Norton Oct 17, 2023

Massachusetts can unlock a source of needed child care, especially in low-income communities, by increasing the subsidies the state provides to license-exempt family, friend and neighbor (FFN) providers, according to a new report.

The report by Care That Works, a campaign driven by community organizations and labor unions, found that low wages are one reason that only about 1 percent of those with subsidized children – representing 580 children – use public vouchers to reimburse FFN care, and less than 0.2 percent of the state’s $778 million child care subsidy budget supports FFN care.

The campaign is calling on Beacon Hill, where top Democrats are developing major early education and child care initiatives for action, to raise the $5.30 an hour subsidy for FFN providers to $15 an hour, the state’s minimum wage.

According to the report, care provided by family, friends and neighbors is often the only option for the many parents who work non-traditional hours. Formal care programs are often closed when working parents need the care, the report said, and 71 percent of families utilizing FFN child care vouchers live in high-poverty areas.

“Families can’t find the care they need to go to work, while these providers who are the backbone of our communities are struggling on wages well below the state minimum,” said Mimi Ramos, Executive Director of New England United 4 Justice and a member of Care That Works Steering Committee.

Ramos said increasing FFN provider wages to at least $15 per hour would “acknowledge their value” and also called for child care voucher system reforms. “Every family deserves access to quality child care that aligns with their work schedules. Removing restrictions on voucher hours is not just a policy change; it’s a lifeline for working parents,” Ramos said.

While FFN providers are not regulated in the same way as licensed care centers, the report says FFN child care is “the most common form of nonparental child care in the United States, with an estimated 5 million providers and 11.5 million children in care.”

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