Chapter 9: Child Care

Issues: Child Care

Child care has been an ongoing issue of public policy concern primarily because, in most American families with children, parents are working outside the home and must arrange for care for their children. This is true regardless of whether parents are married or unmarried and regardless of the age of their children, although mothers of school-age children have a higher rate of employment than mothers of preschoolers. Thus, some form of child care is a fact of life for the majority of families with children, and federal grants and tax credits exist to help offset the expense for those who purchase child care.

Over time, policymakers have debated the appropriate federal role in addressing questions of availability, affordability, and quality of child care. The role of child care as a work support for low-income and welfare-recipient families has been a particular focus of debate. In recent years, child care as a policy issue has broadened into the related areas of early childhood development and education, as research has focused on the connection between children’s early experiences and their successful long-term development. Child care discussions increasingly include a focus on content and quality, while discussions of early childhood development and education increasingly address the need for coordination with child care services to fit the schedules of working families.

The federal government has used a number of different strategies to invest in child care, including broad-based social programs as well as targeted child care programs and tax provisions. This section of the Green Book focuses primarily on the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a term used to refer to the combination of mandatory and discretionary child care funding streams administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The CCDF is the primary source of federal funding dedicated solely to child care subsidies for low-income working and welfare families.

The FY2018 funding level for the CCDF was roughly $8.1 billion, which included $5.2 billion in discretionary funds and $2.9 billion in mandatory funds. Discretionary CCDF funding is authorized by the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990, which was reauthorized through FY2020 by the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-186). Mandatory CCDF funding is authorized in Section 418 of the Social Security Act (sometimes referred to as the "Child Care Entitlement to States"). These mandatory funds have generally been operating under temporary extensions of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program since FY2011.

The CCDF provides block grants to states, according to a formula, which are used to subsidize the child care expenses of working families with children under age 13. In addition to providing funding for child care services, funds are also used for activities intended to improve the overall quality and supply of child care for families in general.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

For more programmatic information, please see reports published by the Congressional Research Service.

CRS works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to Committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation.

Additional Tables and Figures

Figure 9-1. Federal Funding Appropriated to the CCDF, FY1997-FY2018

Figure 9-2. Total Federal and State CCDF Expenditures, FY1997-FY2016

Figure 9-3. Total CCDF Expenditures (Federal and State) in Nominal and Constant FY2016 Dollars, FY1997-FY2016

Figure 9-4. CCDF Expenditures in Constant FY2016 Dollars and Average Monthly Children Served, FY1998-FY2016

Figure 9-5. Percent of Children Eligible under State Rules Who Were Served by the CCDF in 2015

Table 9-1. Characteristics of Selected Early Childhood Care and Education Programs and Tax Provisions

Table 9-2. CCDF Funding History, FY1997-FY2018

Table 9-3. CCDF State Allocations Based on Appropriations for FY2018

Table 9-4. CCDF Expenditures in Nominal Dollars and Constant FY2016 Dollars, FY1997-FY2016

Table 9-5. Estimated Average Monthly Number of Families and Children Served by the CCDF, FY1998-FY2016

Table 9-6. Labor Force Participation Rates of Women by Presence and Age of Youngest Child, Selected Years, 1947-2016

Table 9-7. Labor Force Participation Rates of Women with Children by Marital Status and Age of Youngest Child, Selected Years, 1980-2016

Table 9-8. Average Hourly Wages for Child Care Workers and Preschool Teachers, May 2017

Legislative History

The following provides a legislative history for child care from the prior Green Book through most of the 115th Congress. For prior legislative history, please see prior editions of the Green Book.

Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-123)

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 raised the discretionary defense and nondefense spending limits for FY2018 and FY2019. Underlying this budget agreement was a commitment to use a portion of the increase in the nondefense spending limit to provide (via the annual appropriations process) higher discretionary funding levels for child care in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.


This page was prepared October 2018 for the 2018 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.