Child Care Assistance Policies: At a Pivot Point

Oct 23, 2013

By Stephanie Schmit

The National Women's Law Center's (NWLC) annual report on child care assistance policies, released today, finds that states are at a pivot point as they make important decisions to build on their subsidy systems. The report finds that families are better off under one or more key child care assistance policies than they were last year in 27 states; however, in 24 states, families are doing worse. State policymakers play a key role in determining families' access to child care assistance. 

Key findings from the report include:

  • Nineteen states have waiting lists for child care assistance in 2013, a decrease from 23 states in 2012.
  • Only three states pay rates at the federally recommended level (75th percentile of current market rates), a sharp decline from 2001 when 22 states had rates at the recommended level.
  • The income eligibility limit was above 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($19,530 a year for a family of three) in all states in 2013. A family with an income above 150 percent of poverty ($29,295 a year for a family of three) could not qualify for child care assistance in 14 states. A family with an income above 200 percent of poverty ($39,060 a year for a family of three) could not qualify for assistance in 38 states.
  • In eight states, copayments for a family of three at 150 percent of poverty increased as a percentage of income between 2012 and 2013.
  • Forty-six states allowed families receiving child care assistance to continue receiving it while a parent searched for a job in 2013, the same as in 2012.

Whether state child care assistance policies will pivot in a positive or negative direction is ultimately unknown and will depend on many factors. With uncertainty at the federal level due to sequestration, the recent government shutdown, and looming budget battles, state policy choices are more important than ever. But states need support from the federal government. If we can get past the Congressional stalemate and invest in those programs that help low-income families succeed economically, we may just be able to pivot in the right direction. 

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