Expanding Access to Child Care Assistance: Opportunities in the Child Care and Development Fund

By Rachel Wilensky, Alejandra Londono Gomez, Alyssa Fortner, and Tiffany Ferrette

One of the most daunting tasks of becoming a parent is finding affordable child care that meets your family’s needs. Stable and reliable child care enables parents and caregivers to work, attend school, or pursue other career advancement opportunities that support family economic growth. Child care also supports the economic growth of communities and the country.

Over time, the federal government has developed assistance programs to help families afford child care. Today, the Child and Care Development Fund (CCDF) is the primary source of federal funding that helps families with low incomes access child care. However, Congress has never fully funded it at anywhere near the level needed to serve all eligible families.

Furthermore, the policies shaping these programs have a racist history. They have persisted in limiting access for families of color, particularly those with low incomes. Families nationwide are facing barriers to finding care, largely due to the unprecedented workforce shortage as child care employment has remained below pre-COVID-19 levels. In addition to this challenge, families of color with low incomes must also overcome significant, systemic racial and economic hurdles to access child care assistance.

This brief offers states ways to improve child care access within the confines of the current system. It focuses on policies surrounding financial assistance for child care. Due to racial and economic barriers, expanding equity in access to such support is especially vital to families of color with low incomes. Both large-scale transformative policies and smaller-scale policy flexibility are discussed and recommended.

Federal funding for CCDF includes a discretionary funding stream (which Congress must approve as part of the budget process each year) and a mandatory funding stream (the Child Care entitlement, authorized in Section 418 of the Social Security Act, which does not require annual Congressional approval). To draw down all available federal funds, states must contribute dollars toward child care each year through matching and “maintenance of effort” (MOE), although discretionary funding does not require a match. CCDF program rules apply to both sources of money, as well as state funding contributions. States can also choose to use funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for child care.

>> Read the full brief here