Child Care Subsidies

Child care subsidies make quality child care more affordable, support the healthy development of children, and help low-income parents access the child care they need to go to work or to school to support their families. CLASP develops and promotes child care subsidy policies that expand access to assistance for low-income families, improve the quality of child care across settings, and help child care providers access the supports they need to provide high-quality care. We analyze state and national child care subsidy data to help advocates and policymakers better understand state policies and make the case for effective policies. For state child care assistance fact sheets, go to In the States.

Jan 11, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Dwindling Support for Working Families’ Child Care Needs

By Hannah Matthews

Today, CLASP released new fact sheets underscoring the need for increased investment in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). These resources, which also demonstrate CCDBG’s overwhelming benefits, come at a critical moment when federal policymakers must begin to make good on their campaign promises to support working families.

For several years, CLASP has documented the slow decline in the number of children served by CCDBG, the primary source of federal funds for child care assistance. Our first fact sheet shows CCDBG Participation Drops to a Historic Low, that CCDBG is again reaching the smallest number of children in its history, according to newly released administrative data from 2015. Fewer than 1.4 million children received CCDBG-funded child care in an average month—21 percent fewer children than did so in 2006 due to declining federal and state investments. Across the country, more than 85 percent of children who qualify for help cannot access the program.

Our second fact sheet, Fewer Children, Fewer Providers, documents a related issue about the declining reach of CCDBG-funded care; since 2006, the number of child care providers receiving CCDBG payments has declined by 52 percentCCDBG funds may be used to support a wide range of child care providers, including those in center-based and home-based settings, along with providers who are licensed and those exempt from regulation in their state. Administrative data show fewer providers of every type are receiving CCDBG support, with the steepest declines seen among home-based providers—regardless of their licensed status—and license-exempt providers overall.

Increasingly, children receiving care through CCDBG funds are more likely to be in licensed settings (87 percent) and in centers (73 percent). From 2006 to 2015, there was a 70 percent decline in the number of children cared for in license-exempt settings, including providers who are relatives and non-relatives.  

There are many questions about who is being served in CCDBG that the administrative data cannot answer. But the subsidy system is clearly providing less access to license-exempt settings. Given the increase in non-standard work hours and volatile scheduling that overwhelmingly impact low-income workers, the data suggest that many families—those who rely on informal care and home-based care to meet their child care needs—are being left behind. Children in these families also need access to quality settings, while their parents need affordable child care options.

Over the past several months, we’ve engaged in a national dialogue about child care affordability (in part due to the presidential election). However, these discussions have not gone far enough. Despite making important improvements to CCDBG in its 2014 reauthorization, Congress has overseen a dramatic decline in child care availability. It’s time to recognize that enacting real bipartisan reform requires that we address the program’s declining reach and distressingly low payment rates as well as state discretionary policies that limit access to child care assistance.  

In order to seize opportunities from CCDBG’s reauthorization, states need significant new resources to strengthen CCDBG, improve continuity for children and families, and support providers in achieving new health and safety requirements. Unfortunately, the emerging policy agenda of our new Congress and president would devastate many low-income families. Congress must make good on its promises to expand opportunity, starting with investing in CCDBG to help hard-working families’ access high-quality care. Now more than ever, children and parents need assistance.

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