Politics

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Downing pledges to cap child care costs at 7% of household income

"We can ask those who have benefited recently to make an investment in the future prosperity of the state."

Ben Downing in East Boston this past winter after announcing his 2022 campaign to be Massachusetts governor. Elise Amendola / AP

It’s becoming common knowledge that the average price of child care in Massachusetts is more than in-state tuition at any of the state’s public colleges.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average price for infant care in the state is $20,913 per year — or roughly 22.7 percent of the median family’s income.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Downing is pledging to cut those costs down by two-thirds.

Downing released a child care plan Thursday to cap child care costs at a maximum of 7 percent of total household income, which the former state senator says would save the typical family with an infant $14,000 a year and allow roughly 34,000 parents to enter the workforce.

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“We can’t talk about reopening the economy if people can’t get their kids in high quality care, first for them to get to work but also to set those kids up for long-term success,” Downing said in a live-streamed video Thursday morning.

The 7 percent maximum cap aligns with the federal government’s definition of affordable, as well as other child care plans put forward by Massachusetts state lawmakers and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign. According to Downing, the cap on costs would be phased in over a period of time.

Downing’s plan, which is modeled after the Common Start legislation proposed by state lawmakers, would also employ subsidies to provide free child care service to families making up to 50 percent of the state’s median income, or $81,215.

In the video Thursday, Downing said the initiative could be funded through “comprehensive tax reform” or the 2022 ballot question to raise revenue for education and transportation with a 4 percent surtax on income over $1 million.

“We’ve seen significant wealth and wage growth at the top end of the economic spectrum,” Downing said. “We can ask those who have benefited recently to make an investment in the future prosperity of the state.”

In some ways, Downing says the state would get a pretty good return on investment. His plan cites an MIT study that estimates every dollar invested in universal child care and early education saves taxpayers as much as $13 in public education, criminal justice, and welfare costs, as well as increases tax collections, in the long term (others have estimated a 7-to-1 cost savings ratio).

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While the child care sector has been particularly squeezed in the wake of the pandemic, Downing’s plan calls for reforming the state’s financing structure to fund child care centers based on “capacity,” rather than “attendance,” in order to cover provider’s operating costs. The funding overhaul would also result in better wages and development opportunities for child care workers in “one of the most dramatically underpaid sectors in the country,” Downing says.

“Childcare workers’ families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers’ families,” he said in a statement. “When 98% of the Massachusetts childcare workforce is women and more diverse than the Massachusetts population, you simply cannot talk about remedying gender pay and racial wealth gaps without tackling this issue head on.”

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