States Can Shape Child Care Subsidy Policies to Improve Access and Continuity

Feb 08, 2013

By Stephanie Schmit and Emily Firgens

Under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), states have significant flexibility to set their policies that determine how families apply for and receive child care assistance. Most policies that impact families (including income eligibility limits, parent copayment fees, and redetermination periods) are set by states according to the minimal requirements outlined in federal law. States may make policy changes at any time through administrative or regulatory processes, although changes in some states may require legislative action.

Given the impact that child care subsidy policies have on children, families, and child care providers, it is imperative for states to design their subsidy policies based on the needs of low-income working families in their states, and with an aim of easing families' access to quality child care. By simplifying and making policies less restrictive,  states can reduce the burden on child care administrators and eligibility workers, as well as reduce the potential for improper payments and other errors. The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) outlines state child care subsidy policies annually and has released a fact sheet  that highlights recent state level changes in subsidy policy that affect children, families, and providers. Here are a few examples of the changes:

  • Less than half of states require parents to work for a certain number of hours a week, but Kansas has begun requiring that most adults receiving child care assistance be employed at least 20 hours per week.
  • Nevada no longer provides assistance for parents in education or training programs, with the exception of minor parents completing high school or their GED. North Carolina limits child care assistance to 20 months for parents in post-secondary education or job training.
  • Many states require families to seek child support enforcement services in order to be eligible for child care assistance. This policy can deter some families from applying for assistance if there are concerns about the relationship with the non-custodial parent. Washington State recently stopped requiring families to seek such child support enforcement services.
  • Many states have adopted, or are considering adopting, 12-month eligibility periods for child care subsidies. Longer eligibility periods can minimize bureaucratic burdens for parents and the amount of time they need to spend documenting their eligibility. This can make it easier for families to maintain their child care assistance and provide greater stability in care arrangements for their children.

Recent guidance by the federal Office of Child Care encourages states to establish policies that promote continuity of care for children and families, including 12-month eligibility periods, broader definitions of work activity, and payments to providers for child absent or sick days. It is essential for state policymakers to be aware of the flexibility that CCDBG offers, and that the Office of Child Care supports efforts to keep the best interests of children and families at the forefront when setting subsidy policies.

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