Child Care Funding to States Could Increase After Budget Deal

by Shiva Sethi and Christine Johnson-Staub

Today, the U.S. Senate passed a two-year budget bill, already approved by the House, for fiscal years  2020 and 2021. The budget deal raises funding caps, a crucial first step that allows increased spending on discretionary programs like the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and WIC.

In the budget deal passed in 2018, Congress included a $5.8 billion commitment to increased CCDBG funding. While this year’s bill did not include a specific funding commitment for child care, it paves the way to maintain and build on last year’s historic increase.

The Senate can now use the appropriations process to further increase CCDBG funding in the 2020-2021 budget. Advocates have requested an additional $5 billion to help meet families’ needs. At a minimum, senators should match or exceed the House’s proposal.

Increasing funding for CCDBG—the largest source of federal child care funding—would support children and caregivers for years to come. Investing now would build on hard-won progress in recent years. In 2014, CCDBG’s bipartisan reauthorization laid out important, ambitious goals: stabilize families’ access to care, increase basic health and safety, and help child care providers improve quality. The law initially left many states struggling to meet the promise of its provisions but recent funding increases have allowed states to realize the reauthorization’s potential.

Despite recent investments, there are still enormous gaps in support. Only one in six eligible children actually receives CCDBG-funded child care assistance, and the rates are even lower for Latinx and Asian American children. Like so many other basic needs programs, CCDBG needs additional funding.

Importantly, investing in CCDBG would benefit the early childhood workforce. According to a National Women’s Law Center report, more than half of states used the previous funding increase to raise subsidy payment rates. As a result, chronically underpaid, undervalued child care providers received higher wages and were able to provide better care. This especially benefited women of color, who are a disproportionate share of the workforce but often receive the lowest pay.  For example, when Kentucky raised its subsidy payment rates, child care providers said it helped them retain staff, improve compensation for underpaid teachers, and provide training and professional development. When the early education workforce does better, so do the children and families they serve.

An April report from the federal government  showed that increased child care assistance funding has improved program quality for all children and families, even those who don’t receive subsidies. This confirmed what we’ve long known: high-quality care benefits all children but requires larger federal and state investments.

A meaningful investment in CCDBG—as well as other programs essential for children and families’ wellbeing— would allow Congress to build on proven success. It would address gaps in high-quality child care, remove barriers for people of color, help families gain economic security, and support children’s development. But that can only happen if the Senate boldly invests now.