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.