A One-time Child Care “Investment” Won’t Support Working Families

By Stephanie Schmit

Set in the context of a budget proposal that disinvests in nearly all programs that make a difference for children and families, the Trump budget attempts to show “support” for working families with a one-time child care investment of $1 billion over 5 years, but we are not fooled. A quick look at the details makes clear how little this would actually do to support working families or provide child care for children and families with low incomes.

If this proposal were approved, states would access the funds through a competition—but would only be eligible to receive funding if they remove “unnecessary regulations.” Removing these regulations could threaten the basic protections that keep children safe and eliminate standards that are the building blocks of high-quality child care.

If the Trump Administration and Congress truly want to help working families and their children succeed, they should start by investing more in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which is the foundational funding states rely on to help families pay for child care. But the president’s proposal flat funds CCDBG and does not address the significant unmet need for child care among working families and, in fact, would cause the program to reduce the number of children it serves as the result of inflation costs. Due to years of stagnant funding for CCDBG, participation in the program reached an all-time low in 2017. The most recent data available shows us that in fiscal year (FY) 2017, only 1.3 million children received CCDBG-funded child care in an average month. From 2006 to 2017, 450,000 children lost CCDBG-funded child care in an average month because states had insufficient funding. While historic investments in CCDBG have helped jumpstart a positive turn in FY 2018 and 2019, Congress must make significant investments to move the needle in meeting the child care needs of families and make up for all of the lost ground.

The president’s proposed child care “investment” sits within a budget proposal that harms the very same families that CCDBG seeks to assist. Trump proposes deep cut in virtually every program that helps reduce poverty and supports wellbeing and economic opportunity for Americans: health coverage through Medicaid, nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and student loans. The president’s meager and ineffective funding proposal spread over five years will not provide the child care that families need and can’t make up for the ruthless cuts to many other programs they rely on to meet their basic needs.

Beyond child care, the Trump budget proposal slashes funding and eliminates other early childhood programs and supports for families. It decreases funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, while eliminating Preschool Development Grants (PDGs) and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Families’ child care needs are not a one-time cost, and policymakers shouldn’t treat them that way by proposing small, short-term funding “increases.” Families need long-term investments in affordable, accessible child care. To that end, CCDBG funding should be increased by $5 billion in FY2020. This will allow states to build on progress made through funding increases in 2018 and 2019 and continue to address unmet need in access to child care assistance. We estimate that a $5 billion increase will enable states to provide child care assistance to an additional 670,000 children. That will make a real difference for families.