By Jacob Stewart, MPP, Manager, Policy and Governmental Affairs, Child Care Aware of America

In 2018, our national child care system scored big. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the largest source of federal funding for child care, received a $2.37 billion increase in the FY2018 appropriations process, nearly double its previous funding. An increase that large and dramatic is nearly unprecedented for a discretionary program.

Early childhood programs Head Start and Early Head Start also saw increases of $610 million and $200 million, respectively. This momentum carried into FY2019, when lawmakers added another $50 million to CCDBG and $200 million to Head Start and Early Head Start.

Given this success, you might be surprised to learn that advocates are now asking for even more money for CCDBG. In fact, $5 billion more—a near doubling of what was just doubled.

Advocates are asking Congress to double what they just doubled. Greed or need? 

But before concluding that these advocates are just plain greedy, it’s important to understand why we’re asking.  

First, CCDBG has been chronically underfunded for years, diminishing its impact over time. In 2000, the number of children served each month by CCDBG peaked at 1.8 million, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But fast forward to 2017, and preliminary data reveals that the number dropped to a historic low of 1.32 million. To understand just how troublesome that number is, consider that the number of children living in poverty is more than 25 percent higher than it was in 2000. The bottom line: we’re spending even less on a need that’s gotten larger. Consequently, CCDBG currently serves fewer than 1 in 6 eligible children.

In 2014 CCDBG was reauthorized with tremendous bipartisan support. This reauthorization added important health and safety requirements for child care providers, but did not come with sufficient funding to allow providers to adopt all of these improvements. As a result, there is a dire need for additional funding to provide high quality, safe, and healthy child care to the growing number of children who qualify. Over the years, inflation also did its part to devalue CCDBG funding: even after last year’s funding increase, federal money for child care still fell $1 billion short of what it was in FY2001, when adjusting for inflation. While five billion dollars may seem like a lot of money, it is necessary to overcome the two decades of non-investment in this critical program.

Second, while a $5 billion increase seems high, at least that much is required to meet each state’s true child care needs. A summary released today by Child Care Aware® of America provides this context by showing why CCDBG funding is important in each state. In addition, this summary illustrates how much each state would receive with a $5 billion increase. For example, $5 billion adds just $86 million for Alabama, $26 million for Nebraska, $5.8 million for Wyoming, and so on. States could easily spend their portions and more to meet the needs of their families.

Finally, the nation is currently facing a child care crisis, underscored by a lack of affordability and high rates of providers leaving the field in some states. As a result, many states are seeing the rise of so-called “child care deserts”, or areas with too few options for child care. Low wages, along with low profit margins, are fueling this crisis, and a large public investment is needed to stop it.

As the renowned child care advocate Helen Blank explains in the First Focus podlet, increasing CCDBG funding is an important first step to fixing the crisis. It not only increases both access for working families and pay for child care workers in the short-run, but it lays the foundation for a child care system in which high-quality care is available to all families and our vital child care workforce is well supported and sustained.

So yes, advocates scored big in 2018, but their work is far from over. An even larger investment is needed to repair the system and meet the needs of American families. Let’s not leave this job half finished.