With families struggling to find child care providers, local and state officials are taking actions to increase options available to working parents.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Tuesday announced she’s hitting the refresh button on a decades-old zoning amendment requiring downtown developers to support child care. The announcement comes just days after a state office launched a grant program for families who want to start their own caregiving businesses.

“What COVID did was highlight … all of the existing challenges that were already there and really exacerbated them,” said Liz Sheehan Castro, director of the Massachusetts Child Care Training Fund. “Cost was already really prohibitive for families, and was having really adverse effects on women in the workforce.”

Wu’s executive order could aid Boston parents and caregivers who head downtown for work. [bumped this up for a transition] She said the order will “update and clarify” zoning regulations to improve transparency and predictability in zoning requirements for large developers in Boston’s Midtown Cultural District to create child care options. The order will also provide stable funding for the Office of Early Childhood to bolster existing child care programs.

“While this policy has been making a difference for more than 30 years, there are still so many working families in Boston who don't have access to reliable, high-quality child care,” said Wu in a press conference on Tuesday, flanked by former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who initiated the effort in 1989.

Inclusion of daycare facilities regulations apply to 14 downtown zoning districts and mostly apply to developments over either 100,000 or 150,000 square feet. Under the existing rules, developers may fulfill their obligations by creating on-site child care programs or financially supporting off-site care. Wu’s office said the language has been interpreted as an employer contributing to a fund to support child care in Boston, but the amount has been “subject to negotiation,” creating an “opaque process.”

“Over time, we've realized that the existing regulations are a bit vague, which led to the difficulty enforcing them as well as difficulty complying with them,” said Devin Quirk, deputy chief of Development at the Planning and Development Agency.

The new order will create a clearer formula for developers that are contributing to the child care fund instead of creating their own on-site programs. That formula is based on a Boston Planning & Development Agency assessment of typical tenant improvement costs for child care facilities and was validated by an external real estate finance consultant according to the city. It’s unclear from the mayor’s announcement how much employers will be expected to contribute.

“In a city [there] needs to be a place where the working class can raise a building and raise a family, too,” said Sarah Jimenez of the Care that Works Coalition, which worked on a 2020report on this part of the city’s zoning code. “Unfortunately, without public investment in caregivers, too many parents can't even dream of being a part of that picture.”

For parents outside of Boston, the treasurer’s office on Thursday announced an effort to expand child care offerings in two other regions.

The new Childcare Start Up Grant, a collaboration between the Treasurer’s Office of Deborah Goldberg and Citizens Bank, will provide 14 grants of up to $4,500 for residents of Lynn and Springfield wanting to open family child care programs. In addition, the effort will offer training help those people start their family child care centers.

“We know the cost of child care is incredibly, incredibly high for many families and it's our hope that residents will utilize the grant to start their own child care businesses to help create quality, affordable child care,” said Alayna Van Tassel, deputy treasurer and deputy director of the Office of Economic Empowerment.

Lynn and Springfield have been previously identified as child care deserts; according to the state, these cities do not have enough day care facilities to support families in these areas.

Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson said his administration is working to increase access to pre-kindergarten programs, but that it has been a challenge.

"Pre-K access is a top priority for our administration and a goal for the city," he said. "That is going to require real collaboration across different types of providers."

Nicholson said the city is excited to see how the new grant program unfolds.

“This is the first step that we have taken to financially support child care centers here in Massachusetts,” Van Tassel said. “It's something that we're continuing to really help raise awareness to and make sure that we’re addressing.”