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Child care is crucial for the well-being of parents, children, and our nation. It makes it possible for parents to work and support their families. It gives children a safe, nurturing environment to learn and develop skills they need to succeed in school and in life. And, by strengthening the current and future workforce, it bolsters our nation’s economy. Yet many families, particularly low-income families, struggle with the high cost of child care. These costs can strain families’ budgets, force parents to use lower-cost care even if they would prefer other options for their children, or prevent parents from working because they cannot afford care. Child care assistance can enable families to overcome these challenges by helping families pay for child care.

Given the importance of child care assistance to families, it is essential for states to have strong child care assistance policies. Under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the major federal child care assistance program, states have flexibility to set policies within federal parameters. This report examines states’ policies in five key areas—income eligibility limits to qualify for child care assistance, waiting lists for child care assistance, copayments required of parents receiving child care assistance, payment rates for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance, and eligibility for child care assistance for parents searching for a job. These policies are fundamental to determining families’ ability to obtain child care assistance and the extent of help that assistance provides.

  • Families in 33 states were better off—having greater access to assistance and/or receiving greater benefits from assistance—in February 2018 than in February 2017 under one or more child care assistance policies covered in this report.
  • Families in 19 states were worse off under one or more of these policies in February 2018 than in February 2017.

While states made some progress on their policies between February 2017 and February 2018, this progress was often limited and, as of February 2018, all states still had substantial gaps. In March 2018, Congress approved a historic increase in child care funding. Yet this increase—$2.37 billion—does not fully compensate for years of stagnant funding. As a result, total funding for child care in FY 2018—even after the increase—remained nearly $1 billion short of the total funding level in FY 2001 after adjusting for inflation. Without further federal and state investments, the new funding will lessen, but not fully close, longstanding gaps.

Key State Child Care Assistance Policies in 2018, State by State

In February 2018, a family with an income above 150 percent of poverty ($31,170 a year for a family of three in 2018) could not qualify for child care assistance in 15 states. Nineteen states placed families applying for child care assistance on waiting lists or had frozen intake (turned away eligible families without adding their names to a waiting list). And in all but one state, payment rates for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance were below recommended levels.

Click on a state below to see information about its policies in a few key areas, including:

  • The income limit up to which a family of three can qualify for child care assistance, as an annual dollar amount and as a percentage of the 2018 federal poverty level ($20,780 a year for a family of three).
  • The number of children or families on the waiting list for child care assistance (if the state places eligible children and families who apply for assistance on a waiting list).
  • The provider payment rate for center care for a one-year-old whose family is receiving child care assistance, in the state’s most populous city/county/region, and a comparison of that rate to the federally recommended level (the 75th percentile of current market rates) for that type of care.

The income limits shown in the map represent the maximum income families can have when they apply for child care assistance; some states allow families, once receiving assistance, to continue receiving assistance up to a higher income level than that initial limit. Also note that in a few states, the income limit varies by locality; for those states, the range of income limits is shown.

The monthly rates shown in the map were calculated from hourly, daily, and weekly rates assuming the child was in care 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, 4.33 weeks a month. For states that pay higher rates for higher-quality care, the most common rate level (the level representing the greatest number of providers) for each state is used. Payment rates in the map are compared to the federally recommended level, which is the 75th percentile of current market rates—the rate designed to allow families access to 75 percent of providers in their community.

A number of states have had changes in their income limits, waiting lists, and/or payment rates since February 2018.

See Overdue for Investment: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2018, Tables and Tables Notes for more details about each state’s policies and changes since February 2018.

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