MEDFORD, Mass. — A year later, Roxana Contreras would say she didn’t know what she was thinking. But in the early spring of 2020, her business in shambles and bills to pay, she decided that she had no choice but to sell her house. The building was also the site of Contreras’s business: a small in-home child-care program called Gummy Bears that she had painstakingly nurtured for 14 years. “I was so worried,” Contreras recalls, “we were running out of money … and there were no kids.”

Contreras’s entire stream of income vanished on March 22, 2020, the date by which the state asked most programs to close. In Massachusetts, scores of child-care programs did not qualify for most government aid programs, including the federal CARES Act, which propped up the state’s public schools with nearly $550 million in 2020. And unlike some other providers, Contreras refused to keep charging families to hold spots for a service she could no longer provide. “The parents shouldn’t have to pay for something they were not getting,” she says. “We were all going through the same thing, struggling financially.”

Later in the spring, Contreras agreed to sell her house for a bargain price (Zillow now estimates its value at double the sale price). She then sold most of Gummy Bears’ equipment before moving into a nearby rental unit in a house just a couple of blocks away. There, Contreras, her husband, who helped run another day care and was also out of work, and her 71-year-old mother subsisted on unemployment.