The Slough Farm Foundation is sponsoring a new child care subsidy for middle-income families on Martha’s Vineyard. The new program is working in conjunction with Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

“One of the big issues on the Island is the cost of child care, [and] it seemed like a no-brainer to reach out to Community Services and see if they wanted to team up with us,” Slough Farm executive director Julie Scott told the Gazette.

Sophie Mazza, the foundation’s business manager, said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers child care affordable if it costs families no more than 7 per cent of their income — a fraction of the actual expense for Islanders.

“I personally spend 35 per cent of our household income, with two working parents, [and] I don’t think it’s uncommon for families with multiple children in early childcare,” said Ms. Mazza, the mother of twins who are almost three years old.

Community Services is now taking applications for the subsidy, available to Island families earning 81 per cent to 125 per cent of the state median income, Ms. Scott said.

“It can give families in that middle income bracket up to $5,000 if their child is enrolled in licensed child care, or will be enrolled within a month in licensed child care,” Ms. Mazza said.

The Massachusetts median income for a family of four in 2024 is $145,491, according to the federal Administration for Children and Families.

Slough Farm has budgeted $125,000 for the program’s first year, Ms. Mazza said.

“For this first round of the child care subsidy pilot, we will be able to provide approximately 30 subsidies, depending on whether all of the households qualify for the full $5,000,” she told the Gazette.

Ms. Mazza said Slough Farm and Community Services hope the new initiative will provide them with more information about the number of Island families who need child care assistance, but are not eligible for existing subsidies such as Bailey Boyd Associates’ program for families making up to 80 per cent of the median income.

“The Bailey Boyd grant is awarded to around 60 families each year... and the funding is exhausted each year,” she said.

“We hear about the ‘missing middle’ in conversations about affordable housing all the time, and the same goes for families with young children needing childcare,” Ms. Mazza said.

Slough Farm went public with the new child care subsidy this month, after piloting it in-house as an employee benefit for the past two years, Ms. Scott said.

“It seemed to make a big impact,” she said.

Only one subsidy will be available per family, at least in the program’s first year, Ms. Scott said.

While the Slough Farm subsidies will ease financial pressure on participating families, parents still face a shortage of licensed child care on the Vineyard.

Island-wide, Ms. Scott said, in 2019 there were 162 infants aged 3 months to 15 months, 244 toddlers (15 months to 2.9 years) and 365 preschoolers (2.9 months to 5 years). But as of 2022, there were only 10 licensed childcare spots for infants on the Island, 100 for toddlers and 300 for pre-schoolers, she said.

“This averages to 53 per cent of the children... being served,” Ms. Scott said.

In addition to the child care subsidy program, Slough Farm Foundation also is introducing its first grant-making program for local nonprofits. The $85,000 Slough Support Fund will begin accepting applications April 8 for grants of $5,000 to $25,000 from organizations based on the Vineyard.

Slough Farm already provides ongoing financial support to local causes through the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, Island Grown Initiative and other groups, Ms. Scott said.

The new fund’s goal is to help more Vineyard nonprofits launch new programs, become more sustainable and achieve other objectives, Ms. Scott said.

“In the nonprofit world, we know there are things that are hard to get funded but are essential,” she said. “Whatever [nonprofits] feel their needs are, we want to be able to support them. We are Islanders giving money to Islanders.”

Like-minded philanthropists are welcome to join Slough Farm in enlarging the new grant and child subsidy programs, Ms. Scott added.

The foundation will have a Slough Support Fund grant application on its website by April 1, she said.