Massachusetts isn't helping as many low-income families access childcare as it could or should, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

The report says more than 16,000 children are on a waiting list for a state childcare subsidy, according to the most recent count last February.

A previous report by the foundation estimated inadequate childcare access costs the state $2.7 billion a year in lost earnings for employees and $812 million for employers.

The new study highlights problems it says are leading to that decreased access to childcare. Those include inequities in how the state calculates reimbursement rates for childcare providers, as well as administrative problems that prevent families from benefiting from the state's help.

"Without childcare, families with kids can't get to work, can't engage in the economy. And Massachusetts right now has a workforce shortage across a lot of different markets," said Ashley White, a senior policy researcher at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "I think childcare can be a big solution to that problem. But there are some, I think, immediate and more longer term reforms that need to happen to make sure that this system can serve families and children across the commonwealth."

For one thing, the way the state calculates how much it pays in subsidies results in less money for childcare providers in lower-income areas, White said. That's because reimbursement rates are based on a percentage of the going market rates for childcare in an area.

"And so if you are in a higher-income region, you can charge more for care, and your reimbursement rates are going to be a little bit higher," White said. "If you're in a lower-income region, you can't charge as much for care because people aren't going to buy your services. And so your reimbursement rate is a bit lower. And so there's an equity issue in the reimbursement process."

The report also recommends reforms to how the state allocates childcare spots that are reserved for low-income families, saying that they're currently not always available in areas where they're most needed.

The new report follows one issued last March by a state legislative commission studying the issue. The commission's report made a range of recommendations for stabilizing the state's childcare industry and increasing access for low-income families. Following that report, the state Senate passed a sweeping reform billfocused on helping the state's childcare industry, but the bill didn't pass the House.

"And so because that two-year session is over, the process really starts over again," White said. "So it's not like we can kind of pick up where we left off. That bill, or other bills, need to be reintroduced to move forward. But I think there was a lot of progress. And that legislation, I think, was a really kind of a template for change, I would say."

Despite that reform bill not passing, William Eddy, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care, said the Legislature did make investments during the last session that helped improve early education salaries and began to address hurdles families face in getting state assistance with childcare. Eddy called that "a terrific first step."

"Now that they've had a full year to digest it, our expectation is that the House and Senate and the new governor are prepared to really come in now in year two of this commission report and not only invest in the early ed workforce, but begin to invest in families trying to access the care, and also continue to try and reform the system and make it easier for families to access care," Eddy said.

There are hurdles for families, for providers and for the agencies that help arrange childcare, Eddy said. At the same time, he said, there are 52,000 young children in Massachusetts currently receiving what he described as "high quality" state-subsidized care.

"There's some terrific care going on," he said. "There's also really some serious infrastructure issues that need to be addressed by the state to reform the subsidy system as we move forward."