Child Care and Development Block Grant Participation at a 15-Year Low

By Hannah Matthews

Participation in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) has fallen for the third consecutive year to a 15-year low. Fewer children were served in 2013 than in 1998.

In February of this year, CLASP first reported that the number of children receiving child care funded by CCDBG had reached a 14-year low. CCDBG provides critical help to low-income parents so they can work and meet the high costs of child care. With the release of an additional year of data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reflecting participation in the program in 2013, the overall picture of child care assistance continues to worsen.

In 2013, 1.46 million children received CCDBG-funded child care in an average month. Not since 1997 have so few children gotten help. With increased investments in the early part of the decade, the program served 1.8 million children at its high mark and has since steadily dropped. Since 2006 alone, 315,000 children have lost child care assistance, an 18 percent drop. When looking at individual states, the decline in children served over six years is as much as 72 percent in Maine, 54 percent in the District of Columbia, 53 percent in Mississippi, 52 percent in Idaho, and 47 percent in Michigan.

Even before this latest drop, HHS estimated that only 18 percent of children eligible for assistance under federal rules actually got any help. Coupled with the decline in children served is a 10-year low in state and federal child care assistance expenditures.

Families need child care to go to work and children need quality child care that supports early learning and healthy development. High rates of poverty, low wages, and poor-quality jobs, make it nearly impossible for low-income parents to get ahead. For parents who do receive help, CCDBG is a lifeline and can make the difference between taking—and keeping—a job to support their families or not. It can also mean accessing higher-quality child care options for their children.  Moreover, CCDBG benefits families and child care programs across the country by providing the bulk of funding to improve the quality of child care, the core of our country’s early learning system. CCDBG funds Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), teacher scholarships and professional development, and basic monitoring of facilities for compliance with health and safety standards.

This week, the National Women’s Law Center released its annual report on state child care subsidy policies. The good news is that subsidy policies have shown modest improvements over the last few years with some states raising their income eligibility limits for parents to qualify for help and either raising provider payments rates or at least holding rates constant. That said, the system continues to show enormous gaps with thousands of children on waiting lists and provider reimbursement rates alarmingly low. Only one state pays providers at the federally recommended level, compared to 22 states that paid at that level in 2001, and in most states even the highest payment rates for higher-quality care fail to meet the federal benchmark.

In three weeks, Congress is expected to pass a long-overdue reauthorization of CCDBG.  Improvements to the program included in the pending bill reflect consensus that it is no longer suitable to accept minimal quality child care, inadequate health and safety standards, or overly burdensome eligibility policies that wreak havoc on parent’s employment and make continuity of care impossible for children. But those improvements will be for naught unless we stem the tide on this declining participation and take seriously the need for significant investments in child care at the federal, state, and local levels.

For state-by-state participation trends, read our fact sheet >>