Child Care Assistance Spending and Participation in 2019

*This fact sheet has been updated on August 12th, 2022.

By Alycia Hardy and Alejandra Londono Gomez 

Child care has proven to be a worthwhile investment for children, families, and our country’s future. It allows children to have a safe place to learn and grow, so their parents can work and provide for their families. However, funding for these programs has failed to meet families’ needs—leaving them unable to access affordable, high-quality child care.

The federal government provides limited resources for child care through a combination of mandatory funding through the Social Security Act—sometimes referred to as Child Care Entitlement to States—and discretionary funding authorized through the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) of 1990. These two combined funding streams are known as the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF). CCDBG is the primary federal funding source for child care subsidies to families with low incomes. It is also the primary funding source for improving the quality of child care for all children. In addition to CCDBG funds, states can receive additional child care funding through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. Even with these federal investments, the United States woefully underinvests in child care and early childhood education when compared to other countries. This underinvestment has translated to most families, including those who are currently eligible for assistance, not having access to the high-quality child care they need and deserve.

In fiscal year (FY) 2018, federal funding for CCDBG increased by a historic $2.4 billion, the largest rise in the program’s history. This enhancement in federal discretionary funding was primarily intended to fully fund CCDBG’s 2014 reauthorization and strengthen access to child care assistance. Since states have multiple years to spend funds, the increase in FY 2018 translated into increases in FY 2019 spending for child care assistance.

This fact sheet analyzes national and state spending and participation data for CCDBG- and TANF-funded child care for FY 2019. Given the delay in the public release of data, this analysis does not reflect the devastating impacts that have rippled through the child care system because of the COVID-19 pandemic—such as widespread provider closures; record unemployment rates; increased underemployment; or existing and exacerbated racial and economic inequities. Similarly, it does not reflect the significant COVID-relief funding for child care in 2020 and 2021 or how states have invested those funds to address child care access, affordability, and quality, as well as increase provider participation.

Read the full brief here.