ACF Encourages Bold and Equitable Implementation of CCDBG Relief Funds

By Christine Johnson-Staub

The federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office of Child Care recently released guidance on the provision of Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) supplemental dollars. In it, ACF officials encourage states to take bold steps to provide immediate relief to families and providers, address inequities, and strengthen the foundation of the child care system as the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress work to make much-needed larger, systemic, and permanent investments.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress in March provided essential child care relief funds in the form of stabilization grants for providers and $15 billion in flexible child care assistance through CCDBG. This ACF guidance released in early June emboldens states to use the ARPA supplemental CCDBG dollars to take major steps to stabilize and strengthen child care providers through increased payment rates and make child care more affordable so parents can work.

Prior to the pandemic, our nation’s child care needs were urgent and inequitable. Built on the unvalued and undercompensated (and even uncompensated, in some cases) work of Black women and other women of color, the child care system failed to meet the needs of families and relied on massive workforce inequities to operate. The pandemic has made these inequities even more pronounced and visible.

While the guidance confirms that ARPA supplemental CCDBG dollars can be used by states for any purpose allowable under the federal CCDBG law, ACF took the opportunity to go beyond what’s allowable to encourage states to use this historic opportunity to promote equity and strengthen the foundation of state child care programs. ACF officials strongly recommend that states:

  • prioritize using the funds to raise payment rates,
  • increase child care workforce compensation, and
  • take other bold steps to support children’s developmental needs, choices for parents, and increased access to assistance for families.

In addition, the guidance encourages:

  • supply-building activities, including care for infants and toddlers and care during nontraditional hours,
  • setting payments based on the cost of quality rather than traditional market rate surveys,
  • expanding the use of grants and contracts to support program stability and supply building, and
  • paying child care subsidies based on children’s enrollment rather than attendance.

Taken as a whole, the guidance advances policy solutions that can help address long-standing instability created by decades of underfunding and neglect that exacerbated barriers to child care for families and providers, especially those who are Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, and in other communities of color.

States have had access to the supplemental CCDBG dollars since April 15 and can use them through September 2024. States should act now to use these funds – along with the ARPA child care stabilization grants and the $10 billion in child care relief funds included in January’s coronavirus relief package – to provide relief, make policy changes and investments to address needs identified by families and child care providers, and begin building stronger systems of care.

These relief funds, which total nearly $50 billion, will have a dramatic impact on families’ access to high-quality child care. However, to fully meet the needs of the field and families, Congress must continue to work toward investing the estimated $700 billion necessary to permanently address those needs and build a transformed system of high-quality child care that works for everyone. This system simply can’t rely—as it has for decades—on undercompensating women, and especially women of color, or put the cost of care on backs of parents.