Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress sheds light on the challenges that many parents face when trying to access child care assistance in the United States.
Through interviews with nearly three dozen parents, providers, advocates, and policy experts, CAP Senior Fellow Judith Warner illustrates how difficult it is for low-income families to navigate an underfunded child care support system and also highlights opportunities for our nation to better support working families.
“Child care assistance should, in theory, help working parents better balance the demands of work and family,” said Warner. “But for many parents, trying to access child care assistance only increases their daily burden of worry and frustration. When our leaders do not invest in child care to support working families, many low-income parents are essentially set up to fail.”
As previous CAP research has revealed, child care costs have skyrocketed in recent years: From 2000 to 2012, child care costs increased $2,300 for a typical middle-class family. Today, the national average annual cost of child care for an infant and a 4-year-old combined is $17,852—a cost that is out of reach for many families, particularly low-income parents.
Unfortunately, our nation’s child care assistance programs for low-income working families—chiefly funded by the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, or CCDBG, program and administered by the states—have never been funded at levels sufficient to keep pace with the level of family need. Without sufficient funding, states must scramble to essentially ration their child care dollars and do so by imposing complex and burdensome rules and requirements that trip parents up and push children out of subsidized care.
As a result, only a fraction of the children who need child care assistance actually receive it. Further, as the stories collected in CAP’s report demonstrate, our nation’s child care support system often serves to increase the toxic load of day-to-day stress that now weighs on many working families.
In addition to calling for increased funding for the CCDBG program, the report contains further recommendations to eliminate barriers to access child care programs. The recommendations suggest that states build on 2014 legislation designed to make access easier for families by simplifying paperwork requirements, reporting requirements, and eligibility processes—as well as by consolidating entry points for the various early childhood programs that serve families.
The report also recommends looking beyond the CCDBG program to seek additional child care funding for low- and middle-income working families. Last fall, CAP proposed the High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit, which would serve more than 6 million children under age 5—five times more than the current number of families that the CCDBG program serves. The tax credit—worth up to $14,000 per child, according to family income—would be advanced to families throughout the year on a monthly basis and paid directly to a child care provider chosen by the parent. Combined with earlier CAP proposals for voluntary, universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, this measure would provide greatly increased access to high-quality care for all children from birth to kindergarten.
Read the report: Jumping Through Hoops and Set Up to Fail by Judith Warner
For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at [email protected] or 202.478.5328.