A collaborative effort between Eastham’s Finance Committee, Select Board and administration has resulted in a “Family Support Package” to help address the rising cost of child care, housing and food for residents.

The public assistance plan was approved by Town Meeting as an override in 2020 with an 80% majority. The town is offering full-day preschool for 4-year-olds (up to $10,000 per child), half-day preschool for 3-year-olds (up to $5,000 per child), lunch for every Eastham student, extra support for an existing summer food program (Food 4 Kids), and $4,000 to support the Eastham Committee on Early Childhood after-school care to help subsidize that cost for families. The program also sets aside $100,000 per year for workforce housing programs.

The package was developed to help the town address a shift in demographics — an increase in the average age of residents and difficulty drawing in and retaining young families, an issue facing municipalities across the state. Members of the Finance Committee and Select Board had approached Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe with data on how preschool education contributes to success in later school years, and similar data supporting nutrition being provided in schools.

“We came up with options for programs by looking at child care programs on the Cape and the costs,” Beebe said. “We decided what was essential and how to best support families with the resources we have.”

Finance Committee Member Mary Shaw, who came to Beebe with early education research, said focus groups working on the program gave top priority to free preschool education.

“The cost of housing has gotten worse and worse,” Shaw said. “If you are providing funds for families to send kids to preschool, it helps them have more money for rent or a mortgage. … And when people have access to education in the beginning years, they tend to stay in school and be interested in school.”

The Family Support Package was funded at $490,500 for the first year through a property tax assessment of 16 cents per $1,000 valuation. The program is partnering with existing child care providers.

“The funding helps offset the costs for families while creating a source of economic benefit for existing services,” Beebe said.

The program also helps make progress toward the town’s five-year strategic plan priorities to “improve quality of life for a diversity of residents and strengthen the community.”

“It was almost a unanimous vote at Town Meeting, and it was an override,” Beebe said. “We did the strategic plan, and so the community understood how important it was.”

The program has 30 to 40 children enrolled at any given time.

“Parents are using it to return to work, even on a limited basis,” Beebe said. “Some will use it just two days a week. … I did have several conversations with parents who cried and said, ‘This program has made a difference for us.’”

The town’s program is permanent, but Beebe said she hopes to see the state encourage preschool subsidies on a statewide level.

Shaw said other communities on Cape Cod, including Wellfleet and Orleans, also have programs to help address similar issues, and the town of Brewster had reached out to Beebe to learn more about the Family Support Package.

“Start to address it in any way you can,” Beebe said. “It can cost whatever the community wants it to cost. Start small and slow if you need to and let it grow. … Not every community will embrace an override, but we saw it as critical.”

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