New Analysis of Access to Child Care Subsidies, Head Start Finds Disparate Access by Race, Ethnicity, and State

Washington, D.C.—In a unique analysis released today, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) found that access to child care subsidies and Head Start  is sharply limited for all eligible children and even more so for particular racial and ethnic groups and in particular states.  Most striking is the low level of access that eligible Hispanic or Latino children have to child care subsidies, especially in some states including Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee.

CLASP’s brief, which presents a unique analysis of data reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by Head Start programs and state child care agencies, confirms very low levels of access nationally to all the programs because of the large gap between current investment and need.  Less than half of eligible preschool-aged children participate in Head Start, less than one in six eligible children receive child care subsidies funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and fewer than 5 percent of eligible infants and toddlers participate in Early Head Start (EHS).

Of great importance, CLASP’s analysis found distressingly low levels of access for particular groups of children:

  • Eligible Hispanic or Latino children have sharply lower access to CCDBG than eligible children of other races, ethnicities. While 13 percent of eligible children (ages 0-13) and 21 percent of eligible Black children receive child care assistance through CCDBG, only 8 percent of eligible Hispanic or Latino children get help.
  • Poor infants and toddlers are unlikely to access high-quality early childhood services through Early Head Start. No more than 6 percent of eligible children in any racial/ethnic group have access to Early Head Start.
  • While gaps in access to Head Start preschool exist, since only half of all eligible children have access, program access does not appear to be as significantly impacted by race/ethnicity.  Fifty-four percent of eligible Black children and 38 percent of eligible Hispanic or Latino children are served in Head Start preschool, with additional eligible Hispanic or Latino children served through the Migrant Head Start program.

State-level differences in access by eligible children to Head Start, EHS, and CCDBG are also striking and likely reflect a mix of federal budget constraints and, in the case of CCDBG, state policy choices:

  • In CCDBG the share of eligible Black children served ranges from 3 percent in Maine to 42 percent in Pennsylvania. For eligible Latino children, the share ranges from 1 percent in Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina to just 20 percent in New Meixco. For eligible American Indian/Alaskan Native children, the share ranges from 4 percent in Michigan and New York to 43 percent in Arizona.
  • In Early Head Start, eligible Latino infants and toddlers’ access ranges from 1 percent in Georgia and Louisiana to 16 percent in Nebraska. Eligible Asian infant and toddlers’ access ranges from less than 1 percent in Georgia to just 9 percent in Minnesota.
  • In Head Start preschool, the share of eligible Latino children served (not including the migrant program) ranges from 13 percent in South Carolina to 84 percent in Minnesota.

The report offers early insights about the reasons for these disparities, while noting that more analysis is needed to fully understand and fix them. “Stagnant federal funding and antiquated funding formulas for both child care and Head Start prevent states with growing or diversifying child populations from targeting new resources to underserved communities. State-level decision making in CCDBG may result in state policies that contribute to inequities in access,” said Stephanie Schmit, senior policy analyst at CLASP and co-author of the report. She added that “Head Start’s explicit focus on reaching underserved families and communities may contribute to less disparate access.”

“Both the low overall access and the unequal access for low-income children of color shown by this report are unacceptable – given all that we now know about the damaging effects of poverty and the role of high-quality early childhood programs in countering those effects. This analysis cannot answer all of the questions it raises, but it must drive a sense of urgency at the state and federal levels about identifying and solving these deeply worrying gaps and disparities,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of CLASP.

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CLASP is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions that work for low-income people. With nearly 50 years of trusted expertise, a deeply knowledgeable staff, and a commitment to practical yet visionary approaches to opportunity for all, CLASP lifts up the voices of poor and low-income children, families, and individuals, equips advocates with strategies that work, and helps public officials put good ideas into practice. The organization’s solutions directly address the barriers that individuals and families face because of race, ethnicity, and immigration status, in addition to low income. For more information, visit and follow @CLASP_DC.