Child Care Reauthorization One Year Later, Further Investments Needed

In November 2014, President Obama signed the first reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in nearly 20 years. CCDBG is the major federal program that provides funds for child care assistance so low-income families can work or get education or training to improve their economic stability and to improve the quality of child care for all families. In addition to being a work support for parents, CCDBG provides access to early childhood educational experiences and after school programs for 1.4 million children.

The reauthorization made long-overdue changes to the child care program by setting basic health and safety standards, such as CPR training for child care providers and on-site inspections for compliance with standards. It made improvements so that parents would have more stable child care financial assistance supporting their employment and education success and continuity for their children to remain in child care settings over time.

The renewed CCDBG aspires to improve the quality of child care and to ensure that more low-income and vulnerable children, including those with special needs and those experiencing homelessness, have improved access to high-quality settings. That vision represents a necessary turnaround from the current trajectory of the program. In recent years, CCDBG has served fewer and fewer children, and the quality of child care accessed by many low-income children remains poor. Yet, that vision cannot come to fruition without investment.

When passing the bipartisan CCDBG Act, Congress acknowledged that new funding would be necessary to meet the goals of the program. New requirements necessitate additional funds that Congress should appropriate. For example, the law requires background checks on workers to improve safety for children and inspections to ensure that centers and providers are compliant. These and other provisions will create new costs for states.

Across the country, for the past year, states have been implementing the new law—reviewing current programs for improvement, convening stakeholders to craft new policies, and passing legislation to codify new requirements. States also have been grappling with how they will successfully implement the promising provisions of the new law with limited funding. CLASP has engaged with state child care administrators and advocates to discuss these important issues and tradeoffs and has created a guide to help explain the law by exploring key provisions and providing recommendations.

CCDBG is serving the fewest number of children in its history. If federal and state legislators do not appropriate sufficient resources, additional children and families will lose access to a program that plays an important role in supporting their chances of achieving economic success. Moreover, the lofty goals of the legislation will fail to be realized.

The CCDBG reauthorization is a moment of opportunity, and now is a critical time. With increased public attention on the importance of the early years for children’s development, as well as the struggles that so many families face in accessing affordable, high-quality child care, CCDBG offers a chance to make immediate improvements in the nation’s child care. Right now, Congress stands at a significant crossroads: current appropriations negotiations over the federal budget offer policymakers a unique opportunity  to provide much-needed resources to fully fund the reauthorization to make vital improvements to the nation’s child care system and expand access to enriching experiences for young children that support their healthy development and school success. The way forward is clear. Congress must act now for young children and their families.