PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Christina Loureiro not only works in child care as program coordinator at Federal Hill House — she’s also an expectant mother.

Loureiro, who has one teenage daughter already, told 12 News she will soon give birth to twins.

“It’s kind of a scary thing to think about what’s going to happen and how things are going to be managed,” she said. “Especially since I’m going to be out of work for 12 weeks.”

Despite working in child care, Loureiro said she’s worried about the financial burden of caring for two newborns. Even with a 50% discount to enroll her twins at her own employer so she can keep working there, it’s still going to eat up a significant chunk of her pay.

And Loureiro isn’t alone.

In a profession dominated by women, studies have shown that most child care workers often can’t afford the same care they’re providing to other children.

At the Federal Hill House, a nonprofit that assists low-income families in Providence, workers make between $15 and $20 per hour, depending on experience and credentials. Families pay approximately $300 each week, or $15,000 a year, per child for full-time day care services.

Federal Hill House Executive Director Kim Fernandez said the money covers their payroll — and nothing else.

“The income just doesn’t match the expenses,” Fernandez said. “We can’t raise prices for parents really any higher to keep it affordable, and the state subsidies for low-income workers who might get child care assistance just doesn’t increase.”

“It hasn’t increased, and it needs to increase,” she continued. “We need to pay our staff more money.”

Fernandez said most of her full-time employees have second jobs or live with relatives to get by.

The workers who are also parents feel the squeeze more than most.

In Rhode Island, the average cost of full-time day care for two kids is on par with in-state tuition at the University of Rhode Island, including room and board.

Studies also indicate that families in the Northeast shell out more money on child care than on any other household expense, including the mortgage.

“I think the industry is in crisis,” she said. “I don’t think the child care centers that are here today will be here in a couple of years unless there is a dramatic change.”

Fernandez believes the key lies in state funding.

The state’s budget includes $7 million for early childhood education programs, added last-minute by House lawmakers following a push from child care advocates.

The $7 million will be covered by unspent federal funds and includes $4 million to launch a free child care pilot program. The one-year program would offer free child care services to eligible workers. The goal is to not only assist those workers financially, but also address the industry’s ongoing staffing shortage.

State Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith owns 15 day care centers and told 12 News staffing shortages have hit the industry hard.

“We have empty classrooms with no teachers to hire,” she said. “That’s a crisis. I’ve never seen that in 50 years.”

In order to qualify for the pilot program, Shallcross Smith said applicants need to work at least 20 hours a week at a licensed child care center. Workers also need to have a household income below 300% of the federal poverty level, or roughly $75,000 for a family of three.

For workers making an average $14 to $20 per hour, Shallcross Smith said it will help make ends meet, and she hopes it will incentivize others.

“Parents want to work, they just can’t find child care,” she said. “I think you’ll attract more people for all types of jobs. This is good for the economy. This is good for the state.”

Shallcross Smith is also a proponent of placing a federal cap on the cost of child care.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services considers child care “affordable” if it’s no more than 7% of a person’s household income. But according to a recent study, families in Rhode Island are spending close to 16% of their income on child care, while Massachusetts families are paying 18%.

While the cost burden on families is high, day cares like Federal Hill House are barely scraping by.

“We’re losing money right now,” Fernandez said.

Despite their struggles, Fernandez remains hopeful that the state will continue to invest in child care.

“The more we invest, the easier it’s going to be to educate our growing children once they hit the public school system,” she explained.

Shallcross Smith said the pilot program for workers is meant to generate data so lawmakers can consider whether it is viable long-term. That data is due in November 2024.