Early Childhood

A Look Inside the Revised Child Care Development Block Grant Bill

By Christina A. Samuels — November 18, 2014 2 min read
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Late Monday, the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan revision of the Child Care Development Block Grant, which now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.

Lawmakers and early-childhood advocates hailed the passage of the bill, which helps low-income families pay for child care. It has not been revised since 1996. Here’s a look back at the history of the law, and some of the notable changes.

The history

Back in 1990, Congress approved the first federal child-care bill to be enacted since World War II. As Education Week reported in 1990, the bill was part of a larger package of grants and tax credits. The cost at the time was estimated to be $2.5 billion over three years. States are required to provide a matching sum to use the funds.

In 1996, lawmakers consolidated the provisions of the CCDBG program with three other federal child-care programs connected to welfare, then known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The three programs provided free child care to families on welfare; 12 months of “transitional” child care for families who had left the welfare program because they got jobs; and child-care subsidies to families at risk of ending up on welfare.

Those three programs, which each had different rules and requirements, were repealed as a part of an overhaul of the welfare system that same year. The new child care grant program provided assistance to low-income families, regardless of their welfare status. Education Week wrote at the time of passage that spending on the program was increased by $4 billion to $13.85 billion over six years, but some advocates were worried the money would not stretch far enough.

The changes

Although the 1996 revision was the last time the child-care block grant law was modified, it has continued to receive discretionary funding since then.

Among the changes in the new bill:

  • Regulated and licensed providers must have a pre-licensure inspection. Both licensed and license-exempt providers must be inspected annually, unless the provider is related to all the children in his or her care.
  • States must create training requirements that enable child-care providers to promote the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of children.
  • States must provide to parents consumer education on child-care options and quality, child-care assistance, and other early-learning programs.
  • The minimum initial eligibility period for families must be 12 months, which would reduce some situations where families lose their eligibility for child care soon after getting a job or a pay increase.
  • States will be encouraged to maintain child-care assistance for at least three months after a family member loses a job.
  • States must set aside 7 percent of the child-care block grant funds for quality improvement activities, which increases over time to 9 percent in the 5th and subsequent fiscal years after the bill is enacted.

Barbara Mikulski, a Democratic senator from Maryland and one of the bill’s top supporters, said in a speech on the Senate floor that modifications approved Monday night are intended to create a bill that does more than serve as an aid to get families back to work:

What we know today, but didn't know 18 years ago, is that the most rapid period of development for the brain happens in the first five years of life. That is why it is so imperative that we ensure our young children are in high-quality child-care programs that give kids building blocks for a lifetime of success. It is not enough to ensure that kids have someplace to go. We must ensure that they go someplace safe that nurtures their development, challenges their mind and prepares them for school."

Sources for this blog post include “The Child Care and Development Block Grant: Background and Funding,” Congressional Research Service, and House Passed Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014: Summary,” from the National Women’s Law Center. The Senate bill is identical to the House bill, which was passed in September.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.