How Budget Cuts Continue to Make Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure


Flat Funding and Improvement Measures Reduce Access to Affordable Childcare

Featuring: Melissa Armas, Mother of Leila Armas and member of Educational Enrichment Systems (EES), San Diego, California Parent Voices Chapter, Chula Vista, California and Altonara Bush, Mother of Daylen Bush, Member, National Women’s Law Center’s Child Care Network, Belle Glades, Florida

Photo Featuring Melissa and Leila Armas

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT: Ensuring Access to Childcare for America’s Workers

As far back as 1935 and the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the federal government has provided funding to support child care for families on and at risk of ending up in the welfare system to allow them to pursue work, training, or educational opportunities. In 1990, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) was established as a nondefense discretionary program to provide support to families in need but not connected to AFDC. In the welfare reform legislation of 1996, mandatory funding was redirected to CCDBG to allow states flexibility in meeting child care needs in their states, while simplifying the requirements for federally supported childcare.1

Today, the CCDBG continues to be funded through a combination of mandatory and discretionary funds. However, funding for both streams has failed to keep pace with need. In fact, despite recent growth in child care spending, estimates put the ratio of children who receive care through federal assistance to those who qualify for care at less than one in six.2

Unfortunately, short funding is not the only challenge facing tight child care budgets. In 2014, the CCDBG was reauthorized, improving the standards for child care funded by the federal government. While the training, facilities maintenance, and other standards will improve care for our nation’s children, it was met with just a $300 million increase in funding. Experts estimate that full implementation would require an additional $1.4 billion investment. Increasing the number of children served would require even more. For perspective, to return to the number of children served in 2006, the funding for CCDBG in 2018 would need to be increased by an additional $2.3 billion.3

Child Care and Development Funding
(in Billions of FY17 Dollars)

Source: Congressional Research Service

Roller Coaster of Care

When Melissa Armas was seven months pregnant, she was laid off from her job in San Diego, California. After taking some time to raise her daughter Leila, she was ready to get back to work and so completed a training program at H&R Block and began working at a local branch part-time. As tax season rolled around and she received more hours, she began looking for childcare.

As a single working mother with her salary, Melissa qualified for subsidized childcare at a local child development agency. This agency was able to provide families like Melissa’s with childcare for a reduced rate of $326 per month through a voucher program supported in part by the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and state funding. However, families must meet tight income guidelines to qualify.

At the time Leila was attending this program and through 2014, the eligibility requirement that families be making less than 70 percent of the state’s median income was tied to 2005 data, and did not change with inflation. This, combined with a small raise and a one-time bonus factored over a 12 month period, put Melissa $100 above the monthly threshold to qualify for care.

“I would have had to pay $1200 a month to keep Leila in her school after that. It was a hard decision to take her out because she had grown up with her teachers and they loved her. But as a single mom, I could not afford to pay more than my rent for childcare. I waited until the last possible minute to tell Leila and we both cried.”

Melissa immediately began looking for care:

“I immediately began missing days of work to try to find care and would need to leave work early to get Leila when I did not have coverage. I did not want to leave work. I needed that job but without care or nearby family to help, I had to.”

While looking for care, Melissa faced many obstacles. Often, she was told that she was making too much to qualify for affordable childcare programs. For those for which she did qualify, she was able to have Leila added to lists as long as 5 to 7 years.

Fortunately, Melissa was able to find a spot for Leila at EES. EES is a local non-profit organization that also receives federal funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, as well as some state support. Upon being laid off at her job just one month later, EES was able to continue to provide care for Leila. As a “job seeker,” she was able to bring Leila to the EES from 9 am to 3 pm, 5 days a week while searching for work.

“EES gave me the help I needed to get on my feet. Policymakers in Washington should know how critical these programs are to keeping parents working. Even more importantly, I know that Leila is getting the education and social interaction with her peers at EES, which will set her up for life. Every parent should have that peace of mind.”

New Job, New Care (Eventually)

In Belle-Glades, Florida, Altonara Bush is where Melissa was just a year ago – on the hunt for affordable childcare for her two year old son Daylen. Recently, Altonara began a career as a certified nursing assistant with the Seminole tribe working three 12 hour shifts each week. With her new salary she no longer qualifies for the childcare support that she had through the cash assistance program she participated in while unemployed. In Florida, parents lose eligibility for child care assistance when their incomes reach just $30,240, 150 percent of the federal poverty line, or 55 percent of median income in the state.4

While she has a stable job now, the full rates for childcare hardly fit into her monthly budget and would crowd out money for things like rent, food, and her car which she relies on to travel one hour each way to work each day. Altonara has begun her search for affordable childcare in her community and is currently number 98 on a waiting list for one center where she qualifies for a subsidized rate.

“Daylen liked the program he was in until now and he was learning things. Now, I do not know what I will do for childcare next week because waitlists are so long. I was excited to start my new job. Now I am concerned for my son.”

Childcare Deficits

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that in 2012, 1 in 7 children eligible for childcare funded by the CCDBG were served.5 Since, flat funding has further reduced the number of children served.

Average Monthly Number of Children Served in CCDBG in the United States Federal FY 1998-2015 (in millions)

Source: Department of Health and Human Services Administrative Data

During the Great Recession and the years following, California’s Child Care and Development system was subjected to almost $1 billion in funding reductions. During that time, when in many cases they were needed most, the state lost 100,000 subsidized childcare slots. While the state has taken steps to increase resources, they have not made up for those losses.6

Short funding also leaves thousands of Florida’s children without care. In 2016, there was a waiting list in Florida of 25,774 children. Childcare costs for parents who cannot access subsidized programs are exorbitant. In Florida, a single parent with two children would spend 64 percent of their income for a childcare center, according to some estimates.7

Mary Ignatius, Statewide Organizer for Parent Voices CA, calls for additional support for childcare saying:

“These are programs that work. We are talking about low income parents who are able to work to support themselves, all while knowing that their children are learning and being well-cared for affordably because of the childcare block grant. If people saw the impact that this funding has on the lives of low income families and children, they would want to increase funding so that more children had access.”


1. https://ffyf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/RL30785-CCDBG-1-30-14.pdf
2. https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/5-19-17bud_childcare.pdf
3. https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/5-19-17bud_childcare.pdf
4. https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/NWLC-State-Child-Care-Assistance-Policies-2016-final.pdf
5. http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/CCDBG-Participation-2015.pdf
6. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/rrnetwork/pages/76/attachments/original/1452644405/Child_Care_Funding_and_Enrollment_Reductions_160112.pdf?1452644405
7. http://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/research/costofcare/