Congress recently agreed to a nearly $2 billion increase in a program that helps low-income families pay for care, but slots remain below pre-pandemic levels


A federal program critical to helping low-income families pay for child care got a historic boost late last year.

Congress approved a $1.9 billion increase for the Child Care Development Block Grant, bringing its funding to $8 billion for 2023. The block grant, commonly called CCDBG, is distributed to states, which then help low-income families pay for child care.

CCDBG has been integral to providing more families with access to child care, said Sarah Rittling, executive director of the nonprofit First Five Years Fund. The additional funds will help expand the reach of the program; nationally, only about 1 in 6 children who are eligible for a CCDBG subsidy actually receive one.

“It’s a significant funding stream that goes to states, and states use that in different ways. But at the end of the day, there’s not enough care and the care that is available is really expensive for families,” Rittling said.

The additional funding could expand child care to about 130,000 more children across the country by making care affordable for those families. “In many states, parents are paying more for child care than for their mortgages or even for in-state college tuition,” said Dan Wuori, senior director of early learning with The Hunt Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on education research and policy.

But if states simply use the funds to provide more families with vouchers or subsidies, there might not be enough providers to serve them.

Because of competing crises within the industry, expanding child care access cannot be accomplished simply by increasing the number of child care vouchers available to families. Child care providers are struggling with low pay and a shortage of workers: Jobs in the industry remain below pre-pandemic levels even as the overall job market bounced back rapidly.