Five out of Six Eligible Children Unable to Access Child Care Assistance

By Christina Walker

Child care assistance helps low-income families obtain the child care they need so parents can go to work or school. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the primary federal program that funds child care subsidies for low-income, working parents. States also direct funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to child care, although those funds have declined significantly in recent years. Research has shown that subsidies provide stability for families struggling to gain economic security while allowing families to access higher-quality child care than they could otherwise afford.

A new issue brief released by The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently updated estimates of the share of eligible children served by all funding sources, including CCDBG and TANF. In 2011, only 17 percent—or one in six children—eligible under federal rules actually received any help, leaving five in six children without any assistance. When compared to ASPE’s prior estimate in 2009, the share of eligible children receiving child care assistance declined about 1.5 percent: 100,000 fewer children overall received assistance, even though the number of eligible children increased by nearly 500,000. 

This report highlights the worsening trend in the number of children receiving child care assistance. In 2013, only 1.46 million children received CCDBG-funded subsidies (including TANF transfers to CCDBG) in an average month, which is the lowest number of children served in 15 years. Spending on child care assistance has simultaneously been on the decline, reaching its lowest level since 2002.

From 2011 to 2013, more than 168,000 children lost assistance through CCDBG funds – a 10 percent decrease, suggesting that future analyses may show an even smaller share of eligible children receiving subsidies. This decline comes at a time when states are just beginning to understand and address the increased costs of implementing new requirements included in the 2014 CCDBG reauthorization. Increasing investment in child care assistance should be a top priority for federal and state policymakers to support the costs of reauthorization and stem the tide on the declining number of children getting help. CCDBG is an important investment that helps families gain employment stability and economic security and promotes continuity in child care arrangements that benefits children’s development.