Natick Woman's Op-Ed Over Proposed Daycare Vouchers Sparks Backlash

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(Kim Tunnicliffe/WBZ NewsRadio)

NATICK (WBZ-AM) -- A Natick woman is getting blasted on social media for an op-ed piece she wrote in the Cape Cod Chronicle titled "Why Pay To Keep Young Families In Chatham?"

Beverly Nelson owns a summer home in Chatham and complained about an idea the town's economic development committee is looking at that would give families with pre-kindergarten children an annual $6,000 voucher for daycare costs, regardless of financial need. 

In the piece, published Monday, Nelson asks why she as a taxpayer should be funding childcare expenses for families who can well afford to pay it themselves. 

"Giving such a large subsidy to those who do not need is ridiculous and wasteful," Nelson wrote. "I would rather have my hard-earned dollars go to my own family for their childcare expenses than to go to families who can well afford to pay themselves."

But Nelson is also wondering why town officials are trying so hard to keep young families who cannot afford to live full-time in Chatham as residents.

"In towns around Boston people live where they can afford to live," she writes. "Families who cannot afford to live in Winchester or Weston or Wellesley find localities for residences that fit their budget. This over-concern with keeping families in Chatham when they cannot afford to live there is foreign to what is going on in every other community in the state. I would love to live during the winter in Wellesley but I can only afford housing in Natick."

Her opinions have sparked outrage on social media, and a response column in the Chronicle: "Why Stay To Keep Second Homeowners Happy?" In that op-ed, resident Courtney Wittenstein says Nelson's column "wasn’t just wrong, it was insulting"--she says she grew up in Chatham, but can't afford to live and raise her family there, or open a business there, because of rising housing costs.

"Do you really want Chatham to become a resort town with no history, no life, no heartbeat?" Wittenstein wrote. "That’s not the Chatham I grew up in and that’s not the Chatham I want."

Nelson even got her own song on YouTube.

The head of Chatham's economic development committee Luther Bates says there's been an exodus of 18-to-44-year-olds leaving Chatham in the last decade because it's just so expensive to live there. 

Bates said childcare vouchers are just one idea they're floating to try to keep Chatham a vibrant, robust community that everyone can afford to live in.

"A robust community has children at the soccer field with their parents on Saturday morning," he said. "It has downtown shops being manned by the parents of those kids during school hours. There's a vibrant senior center and a town community center that many different ages all participate in actively."

As for Nelson's op-ed?

"We definitely appreciate the courage that it took to articulate that point," Bates said. "I'm sure she's not the only one that thinks that--Chatham has, sixty percent of the housing in town is second homeowners."

Bates admits if the daycare voucher program moves forward, taxes may have to be raised in the town.

"Theoretically, the town would vote to appropriate a sufficient sum at a town meeting of public funds," he said. "It's important to know EDC isn't in favor of increasing taxes. We are in favor of re-allocating existing resources ... there is that possibility, absent an inability to re-allocate."

Bates says officials are taking a deeper look at one of Beverly's main complaints--whether or not it is fair to make taxpayers fund daycare vouchers for wealthy families.

"She is concerned that giving a large subsidy to those families who don't necessarily need it is ridiculous and wasteful," he said. "So, we think that the issue at hand here is whether the voucher program should be need-based or need-blind. Is it reasonable to think that a very wealthy family could come to town and exercise their free $6,000-dollar voucher? Yes. Is that reasonable to think that other people would want to pay for that? Maybe not. But it's a valid point."

WBZ NewsRadio's Kim Tunnicliffe reached out to Beverly Nelson briefly on the phone. She didn't want to go on tape, but said her op-ed piece was simply an expression of free speech. But because of the backlash on social media, she now feels she has to keep her opinions to herself--and she won't be commenting further on the issue.

WBZ NewsRadio's Kim Tunnicliffe (@KimWBZ) reports

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