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Brief: Improve Child Care Access within the Parameters of Existing Policies

Resource July 25, 2023

The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) provides subsidies to working families with low incomes to help them access quality child care and supports states in improving program quality. The largest federal program to help families afford child care,  CCDF is made up of discretionary funds appropriated for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and entitlement funds from the Child Care Entitlement to States (CCES).

Last month, CLASP released a brief, “Expanding Access to Child Care Assistance: Opportunities in the Child Care and Development Fund,” which offers ways that states can improve access to quality child care within the confines of the current system. While additional federal investments and policy changes are needed to transform our nation’s child care system and truly provide the type of services and support that families with young children need, there are changes that can be made within the existing policies and resources we have that would have a meaningful impact. CLASP’s brief specifically focuses on how to support families of color with low incomes, who have historically faced greater barriers to accessing quality child care. 

CCDF has never been fully funded to serve all eligible children. The program currently only reaches less than 15% of income-eligible families. States have significant flexibility when it comes to CCDF implementation, but with limited funding, they have to make trade-offs when designing their policies. FFYF recently released CCDBG state fact sheets that explore how federal funding is used in each state and why more resources are needed. 

CLASP offers concrete recommendations for how states can better utilize CCDF dollars to expand equity in child care access. The brief presents opportunities across four main areas: 

Improving Information Access and Outreach:

Finding quality child care is often a confusing and overwhelming process for parents. Many parents need help navigating the landscape, yet are unaware of what supports are available. CLASP urges states to make this information more accessible to families by ensuring their child care assistance websites are user-friendly, available in multiple languages, and work in a mobile-friendly format. States should specifically consider the needs of parents who have difficulty accessing this information, such as those with limited literacy or unreliable internet connectivity. States can also take steps to improve outreach to reach the families most in need of support, such as engaging trusted community partners to relay information to their networks. 

Simplifying the Application and Streamlining Eligibility:

The process of applying for child care subsidies can be burdensome, discouraging families from participating. Parents of young children are often juggling many responsibilities, and states should ensure that the application process is as seamless as possible. CLASP suggests that states simplify the documentation requirements, only requiring information that directly impacts eligibility and allowing flexibility about what documentation is needed for verification. Ensuring that families understand how their data/private information will be used and what to expect during the application process can help families feel more comfortable participating. 

Increasing Affordability:

Subsidies substantially lower the cost of child care for families, but high co-payments can still limit access. CLASP recommends states consider waiving co-payments for the most vulnerable families or capping co-payments at the federally recommended affordability threshold (7% of household income). FFYF’s recent state fact sheets include data on the range of co-payments and exemptions in each state and found substantial variation across and within states. States can also improve affordability for families by raising the income eligibility limits so that more families can access subsidies.CLASP also explains how states can use cost estimation model to set subsidy reimbursement rates that better align with the true cost of care. Despite potential benefits, for the FY 2022-24 CCDF plan period, only the District of Columbia and New Mexico used a cost estimation model. 

Recruiting Providers Who Meet a Range of Family Needs:

One major hurdle to accessing affordable care is that only a limited number of providers accept children using subsidies. Low payment rates that do not cover the true cost of care is a primary reason that providers forgo participation and only accept private tuition. CLASP suggests that states consider setting payment rates at or above the 75th percentile of the market rate survey to encourage more to participate. FFYF’s recent brief breaks down how provider reimbursement rates work, including market rate surveys, and explains challenges with the current system. 

While more funding in the system is desperately needed, CLASP’s brief is a useful guide for states to consider using their CCDF dollars more effectively. To ensure that state systems truly meet the needs of families and providers, CLASP urges states to start this work by seeking input from these stakeholders. While we wait on Congress to allocate adequate, sustained funding for child care, there are steps that can be done in the interim to improve access, which will ultimately strengthen families and support children’s development. 

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