This Is What Happens When Childcare Is Free

New Mexico is part of a massive new trend: During the pandemic, half of U.S. states waived co-payments and made childcare free for all families who received subsidies, something that had never been done outside of natural disasters, according to Karen Schulman, the director of state childcare policy at the National Women’s Law Center. In a country where the full cost of childcare can easily cost a family more than $10,000 a year, consuming more of its budget than housing or health care in many areas of the country, states took a radical step and zeroed out the cost entirely.


“We’ve seen over the years where red states and blue states have taken steps forward” on childcare policy, Schulman pointed out. “The question is always: Do they have the resources for it?” With money at their fingertips during the crisis, states of various political alignments recognized how important it would be for families to get free care. “States are willing to make those changes if they have the resources,” she said.

Schulman has tracked childcare policy at the state level for a long time. Typically, “it inches along but there are not big changes,” she said. Things were different in the pandemic. “This was a big thing.”