Child care subsidies help defray some or all of the costs of child care and are a key work support for low-income families. However, only a proportion of all eligible families receives subsidies (Collins et al. 2000). This is due to many factors, including insufficient funding to serve all eligible families as well as some eligible families not wanting subsidies. Yet research suggests that even when funding is available, some eligible families that want subsidies do not get them, and families that do often stay on subsidies for only short periods (Collins et al. 2000; Meyers et al. 2002).
Subsidy policies and practices appear to contribute to whether some eligible families are able to get or keep their subsidies (Adams, Snyder, and Sandfort 2002; Shlay et al. 2002). Factors such as what families have to do to apply for subsidies, to recertify their eligibility once they start receiving subsidies, and to report changes that may affect their subsidy—as well as the ease of interacting with the subsidy agency while completing these requirements—can influence whether eligible families use subsidies and for how long. To the extent that these policies and practices serve as barriers to participation, they can undermine important subsidy program goals—such as supporting the ability of eligible families to sustain stable employment and move toward self-sufficiency, supporting children’s development in stable and decent quality care settings, and keeping administrative costs low to serve more eligible families (Adams et al. 2002).
As a result, policymakers and subsidy administrators have become increasingly interested in understanding more about the issues that can affect subsidy access and retention, and in taking steps to address participation barriers. While recent research has begun to lay the framework for understanding these issues, there has been relatively little information available on what state and local subsidy agencies are doing to support families in this area, or on their experiences in implementing these policies.
The research presented here begins to address this gap. This policy brief summarizes key points from an in-depth report looking at subsidy policies and practices to support subsidy access and retention in seven midwestern states. It also discusses the considerations and trade-offs states faced in designing and implementing these solutions. (Author introduction)