Child care helps children, families, and communities prosper. It gives children the opportunity to learn and develop skills they need to succeed in school and in life. It gives parents the support and peace of mind they need to be productive at work. And, by strengthening the current and future workforce, it helps our nation’s economy. Yet many families, particularly low-income families, struggle to afford child care. The average fee for full-time care ranges from approximately $3,700 to $16,400 a year, depending on where the family lives, the type of care, and the age of the child. Child care assistance can help families with these high child care costs.

Given the importance of child care assistance, it is encouraging that families in thirty-three states were better off—having greater access to assistance and/or receiving greater benefits from assistance—in February 2014 than in February 2013 under one or more child care assistance policies covered in this report. Families in thirteen states were worse off under one or more of these policies in February 2014 than in February 2013. The policies covered are critical in determining families’ ability to obtain child care assistance and the extent of help that assistance offers—income eligibility limits to qualify for child care assistance, waiting lists for child care assistance, copayments required of parents receiving child care assistance, reimbursement rates for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance, and eligibility for child care assistance for parents searching for a job.

This year is the second year in a row in which the situation for families improved in more states than it worsened. The past two years represent a turnaround from the previous two years, when the situation worsened for families in more states than it improved.

Although there were fewer cutbacks and more improvements in the year between 2013 and 2014 than in any of the previous three years, the improvements states made between 2013 and 2014 were generally modest and not sufficient to close continuing gaps in families’ access to assistance and the level of assistance available.