EASTHAM — It takes more than affordable housing to keep a young working family in town. Child care for preschoolers takes a big bite out of paychecks, and school lunch and after-school programs have their costs, too.
Full-time care (weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) for a three- or four-year-old costs about $16,000 per year, according to Cindy Horgan, executive director of Cape Cod Children’s Place in Eastham. “For some people, that’s their entire mortgage payment or that’s their rent,” she said.
Town meeting voters here will be asked to join neighboring towns on the Outer Cape that already provide subsidies aimed at keeping young families in the community. Eastham’s proposed Family Support Package would be the most extensive boost offered by communities from here to Provincetown.
“We’ve been talking about having a warrant article that starts to fund the things that we think are critical for families and children and for keeping families in Eastham,” Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said at the select board’s Feb. 24 meeting, where she first presented the package.
The proposal, Article 10 of the draft warrant, seeks a $490,500 annual appropriation to subsidize licensed preschool tuition by up to $10,000 per four-year-old from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (up to a town-wide total of $150,000) and up to $6,000 per three-year-old from 8 a.m. to noon (up to $108,000), as well as a free school lunch for every resident child (up to $112,000). Also included is a $4,000 annual subsidy to the early childhood committee’s after-school elementary program, $3,500 a year to the Food 4 Kids summer free lunch program.
A separate article asks for $100,000 for a new stabilization fund to be used by the Eastham Affordable Housing Trust for workforce housing development.
Beebe said the inspiration for the package was the select board’s decision to hold off on adopting a residential tax exemption and instead try other means to aid working families.
Few Eastham families would qualify for the preschool subsidies — only 15 four-year-olds and 18 three-year-olds currently live in town. The American Community Survey estimates the median age in Eastham is 58. The number is similar in neighboring towns, whereas the statewide median age is 39.
The Nauset school district receives federal and state subsidies to run a free and reduced-price lunch program for students in financial need. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level ($21,710 for a family of four) are eligible for free meals at school, and those between 130 and 185 percent ($30,895 for a family of four) qualify for reduced-price meals. The full-price cost for breakfast at school is $1.50 and for lunch, $3.
There are 382 Eastham students in the Nauset system: 170 at the elementary school, 87 in middle school, and 125 in high school. Nearly two-thirds receive free or reduced-price lunches. Under the Family Support Package, the town would provide free lunch for all Eastham students. Carolyn McPherson, chair of the affordable housing trust, said the free lunch program helps erase the stigma of having to ask for free lunch in school.
Provincetown offers free lunch to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, for schools in which 40 percent or more of the students are in families receiving support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), among other qualifications. Eastham, Truro, and Wellfleet schools fall below the 40-percent mark.
In Wellfleet, Mike Kubiak is campaigning for his town to double to $400,000 the existing subsidies for its preschool voucher program to include children from birth to age five (only three- and four-year-olds are covered now.)
Truro eliminated tuition for preschool at Truro Central School last spring but decided in February not to enlarge the program to accommodate three-year-olds for a full five days a week. The Truro School Committee endorsed free preschool this year for four-year-olds of residents and town employees, and for however many three-year-olds for which room could be found. The decision was prompted by Provincetown’s provision of free child care and preschool for all infants, toddlers, and three- and four-year-olds of residents and town employees.
The housing development funds in the package would be retained until town meeting approves a project requiring their use. McPherson said workforce housing would serve a population that makes too much money to qualify for affordable housing but still struggles to pay high-cost mortgages or rents.
“The intent of the article is to pull together different initiatives to help families in our community,” McPherson said.