Using Coronavirus Relief Funds to Support Relative Caregivers

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, states, child care providers, and parents are making difficult choices about how to safely support the estimated 6 million children of essential workers in need of care. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has released $3.5 billion in Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds to help. States can use these funds, which were included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to fund child care for essential workers and appropriately compensate providers who are risking their own health to provide that care. States can also use the funds to stabilize and sustain both open and closed child care providers to ensure they’re able to survive the pandemic and support families as businesses reopen. In addition, states can use CARES Act funds to pay relatives who provide care—especially critical now as these caregivers play an essential role in supporting families and our economy.

While some child care providers have remained open for essential workers, they are doing so at reduced enrollment. Parents are making difficult choices among limited options, and some states are finding that parents in the essential workforce are choosing not to use group child care settings at this time, even those meeting strict health, safety, and social-distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Understandably, some parents may choose to leave their children with a family member other than a parent, also known as “relative care.” This is a common choice for families, even in regular times. In fact, about 80 percent of children whose parents use non-parental care report the care is at least sometimes provided by a grandparent or other adult relative.  A more recent survey of parents continuing to work outside the home during the pandemic shows that about half still need child care. However, it’s harder to find care, and without other options, many parents are forced to reduce their hours, take sick time or family leave, or work non-traditional hours. The good news is that about a third had someone in their household who could care for children.

Relative care may be a particularly useful option right now because an increasing number of families, especially families of color—who are also overrepresented among essential workers—reside in multi-generational households and using relative care may help limit exposure to the virus. Asian, Latinx, and Black families are all more likely to live with extended family, as are individuals born outside of the United States. People with low incomes are also overrepresented in the essential workforce. Valuing the work of relative caregivers by paying them to provide care recognizes their importance to the family and the economy—and can provide much-needed funds to families during this crisis.

The new CCDBG funding in the CARES Act can be used to support eligible relative caregivers, even if they haven’t served children receiving state child care assistance in the past. States also can use CCDBG’s quality dollars to support relative providers with training, supplies, and other quality improvement strategies designed to meet their unique needs.

Because many families of essential workers may be struggling with job loss or economic insecurity, using CARES Act funds for family caregivers is an important strategy. Here’s what states can do:

  • Ensure their policies allow for the use of relative care in their child care system, or waive policies that prohibit it under emergency guidance.
  • Ensure all communications to essential workers clearly indicate—in all appropriate languages—that relative care is a legitimate choice for their families; and
  • Use flexible CCDBG funds to fund relative care, including necessary supplies and supports for them.

Relatives play an important child care role for families of all backgrounds and incomes, even in the best of times. But in this public health and economic crisis, it is particularly important to recognize their value and critical role in an already-fragile child care system that desperately needs an immediate and large federal investment of at least $50 billion to sustain it through the crisis.