There was good news this week for Islanders struggling to pay for child care, including preschool: a state grant has come through that will make child care subsidy money available for income-eligible families in five of the six Island towns.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced the distribution of Community Development Block Grants late last week, including $1.56 million that will come to the Vineyard for housing rehabilitation and affordable child care subsidies. About $765,000 of the money will go to Oak Bluffs and Tisbury for 13 units of housing rehabilitation and child care subsidies; another $795,000 will go to Edgartown, Chilmark and Aquinnah for 14 units of housing rehabilitation and child care subsidies.

The breakdowns have not been released yet, but it is believed that over $300,000 will be available for child care subsidies. West Tisbury did not qualify based on numbers from the last U.S. Census. The money is expected to become available by sometime this fall, continuing through December 2011. A family of four earning $65,900 a year or less will be eligible for up to $5,000 a year in assistance. The money can be used for preschool, family day care and after school programs for children newborn to age 13, and up to age 16 for children with disabilities.

The grant was written by Bailey Boyd Associates, a Cape-based agency that is active in securing grant money for affordable housing initiatives, including on the Vineyard. Housing rehabilitation money has been secured for a number of years, but this marks the first time that the grant was widened to include child care subsidies. And it comes just in time — affordable child care assistance on the Vineyard has all but disappeared in the past two years amid deep state budget cuts, many in the area of social services. Enrollment in preschool programs has fallen, as an increasing number families cannot afford to pay for it. This in turn is having an impact on the public schools where more children are entering kindergarten lacking crucial skills in prereading and math.

“We definitely had children this year dropping out of programs because families couldn’t afford it — the need is definitely there, and the Head Start program [federally funded preschool for low-income families] has a waiting list,” said Marney Toole, family services coordinator for the Early Childhood Programs of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services who has worked for many years in the early childhood field.

“And that bubble follows all the way through the school system,” said Ewell Hopkins, director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund which assisted with the grant initiative.

Mrs. Toole and Ewell Hopkins met with the Gazette early this week to talk about the initiative. Among others they credited Deborah Jernegan, director of the Grace Church Preschool and a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Council for Young Children, for underscoring the need at a meeting of the council last year. At the time Mr. Hopkins, who is also on the council, had been in touch with Bailey Boyd about the grant application for housing subsidies, and learned that if the need could be demonstrated, the subsidies could be used for child care as well as housing.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Mr. Hopkins said.

“It’s just fabulous news for the families,” Mrs. Toole added.

Need was identified and documented partly through a pre-application process with families; as a result those families will now be first in line to receive help. Pre-applications are available for others through Community Services (508-693-7900, extension 283, or in person at the Early Chilhood Programs office), and Bailey Boyd (the Web site address is The applications are written in Portuguese and English. Mrs. Toole said she believes the grant money will provide assistance to some 60 to 80 Island families.

And Mr. Hopkins, who took over the Affordable Housing Fund 10 months ago, said the grant also signals a key shift in the mission of the housing fund, which is steering toward more broad-based community initiatives.

“This is a holistic mission; we are part of a team effort,” he said. “What we were talking about a very short time ago was the notion of rental assistance versus housing . . . and this goes way beyond that. Our whole goal now is to stimulate getting money into the community. It hasn’t paid one of my bills, but it’s very exciting.”