A new report by the National Women’s Law Center finds that child-care subsidies continue to fall short of meeting parents’ needs even after a more than $2 billion federal spending increase in March.
The nonprofit’s annual report examines state child-care assistance polices that govern how families can use federal funds primarily provided through the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
It found that the large bump in spending this year wasn’t enough to make up for years of stagnant funding, and the total amount spent on child care in 2018 was nearly $1 billion short of the total funding level in 2001 after adjusting for inflation.
The report notes that a low-income family of three making more than $31,170 couldn’t qualify for child-care assistance in 15 states.
“When a family can’t receive help paying for care, they’re making very difficult and painful choices,” said Karen Schulman, the report’s author and law center’s child care and early learning research director.
Schulman said that could mean using lower-quality child care or cobbling together a hodgepodge of care options among family and friends. In some cases, a parent may have to leave the workforce altogether.
In addition to looking at income eligibility limits, the report also examines waiting lists, parent copayment levels, provider payment rates, and eligibility policies for parents looking for work from February 2017 and February 2018.
Barriers to Child Care
The report found that 19 states had waiting lists or frozen intake for child-care assistance. In four states (Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas), more than 20,000 children were on each waiting list. Schulman adds that these lists don’t adequately convey the need as some parents don’t even bother to apply when they see so many people ahead of them.
Clearing the lists would have a profound effect. “You’d see more parents able to work, more parents with much less financial stress,” said Schulman.
The report also looks at how policies concerning child-care subsidies affect care providers. It notes that only California had child-care provider payment rates at the federally recommended level, which can also severely limit parents’ options.
“When payment rates are low, that means providers aren’t getting the income they need to support high-quality care, and some providers are discouraged from serving families receiving assistance,” said Schulman.
Researchers with the law center collected the data used in this report through surveys of child-care administrators from every state and the District of Columbia, which they counted as a state.
The report was funded by support from the Alliance for Early Success, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation.
Image by Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.