Making Child Care Accessible to Low-Income Families


January 23, 2015

As we noted in a recent Fact of the Week, the average annual cost of center-based child care for an infant is nearly half of the income of a family of three living at the poverty level. In fact, child care is one of the most significant expenses in a family budget and often exceeds the cost of housing, food, transportation, and college tuition. On Thursday, President Obama outlined a proposal to change that by making high-quality child care available to every low-income parent with a child under age 4.
Obama child care

The President’s proposal means that all low-income families (those with incomes under twice the poverty line, or roughly $40,000 for a family of three) with children under age 4 will have guaranteed access to quality child care. By 2025, when this proposal would be fully implemented, access would be expanded to more than 1 million additional young children. In the President’s words from Tuesday, “This is good news, people.”

The proposal would be made possible by increasing funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the primary source of federal funding for helping low-income families pay for child care. Half of the families who receive benefits through the CCDBG live below the poverty level. Thankfully, the CCDBG was reauthorized by Congress with bipartisan support in November for the first time since 1996. Our friends at CLASP note that the President’s proposal would also fund the improvements to state child care programs included in the CCDBG’s reauthorization. Unfortunately, they also note that only 27 percent of eligible families with children under age 5 currently receive help with child care costs through the CCDBG.

President Obama’s proposal would not only make an enormous difference in the lives of many children and their parents, it would help our economy. According to the White House, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors’ report on the Economics of Early Childhood indicates that every $1 spent on high-quality early education generates over $8 in return. Making child care freely accessible to low-income parents means they can go to work to support their families and advance their careers. Together with the President’s plan to increase the child care tax credit, which will benefit families making more than $40,000, the proposals will mean more money in the pockets of parents that they can spend on other necessities or save for the future.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called affordable, high-quality child care a “national economic priority,” adding, “In today’s economy, when having both parent in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have.” We agree, and we’re glad to see the President back up these words with this proposal that will both help low-income families and our economy.

child care
Child Tax Credit
Early Childhood Education
Income Support
Poverty and Income