Subsidized Child Care Expanding, But Still a Scarce Resource in Many States
While most states continue to broaden their child-care assistance policies to serve more families, others are moving backward, according to an Oct. 27 report by the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group focused on public policy issues of importance to women.
Income eligibility, waiting lists for public programs, family co-payment levels and rate of reimbursement for child-care providers determine the availability and quality of state child-care assistance, according to the report, which focuses on these areas. Noting first that federal funding has decreased since 2001, the report dives into what states are doing in the early-childhood realm.
Here are some of the findings:
- A family with an income equal to at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($40,180 a year for a family of three) could not qualify for care in 39 states. That's insufficient, according to the report, since research shows that families in most U.S. communities need to earn at least 200 percent of the poverty level to meet basic needs like housing, food, and health care.
- And even states that have steadily raised their income-eligibility levels may be leaving some struggling families out. Forty-six states have increased those levels by dollar amount since 2001, but only 10 have increased their levels by enough to change who is eligible as a percentage of the poverty level.
- Twenty-one states do not fund their child-care assistance programs sufficiently to serve all eligible families, according to the report. Those states have wait lists of frozen intake policies. While waiting lists were shorter than six months in four states, while they were more than a year in two, meaning that a 3-year-old on a wait list would have to wait until age 4 to receive any subsidized care.
- Many child-care assistance programs require families to pay some amount for the care their children receive to their child-care provider as a "co-pay," in addition to whatever the state provides. In 24 states, co-payments for a family of three living at 150 percent of the poverty level increased as a percentage of the family's income between 2001 and 2015.
Despite the issues, families' access to child-care assistance and/or the extent of the assistance offered increased in nearly two-thirds of states between 2014 and 2015. That is cause for optimism, though not complacency, among advocates, the report concludes.
"Expanded investments are essential to allow parents to have the affordable, reliable child care they need to work, children to have the early-learning opportunities that encourage their successful development, and our nation to have the strong workforce it needs to prosper and grow," the report states.