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Opportunities to Improve Low Income Families’ Access to Child Care through CCDF

Recent Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) rule changes provide a new opportunity to improve families’ access to child care. This blog provides highlights and considerations for state child care leaders and advocates as they update their CCDF plans.

Judy Reidt-Parker June 28, 2024
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

Child care remains inaccessible and unaffordable for too many families across the country. As a result of not having access to quality child care, families may lose their jobs, or be unable to complete school or training programs.

States have submitted three year plans for implementing the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) to the Office of Child Care (OCC) by July 1, 2024, and will be finalized by the end of September 2024. These plans address how states will meet the new rules that became effective April 30th (details are available here). The rule changes are designed to improve access, affordability and the stability of providers who accept vouchers. Below are highlights and considerations for state child care leaders and advocates to simplify CCDF eligibility and application processes.

  • Making eligibility determination and application process easier and faster for families. States are required to design their eligibility policies to minimize disruptions for families, and are encouraged to consider presumptive eligibility, use documentation from other programs (i.e., SNAP, Medicaid) to enroll families, and to provide online enrollment options. Significantly, if a state does not provide online enrollment opportunities, they must describe why it is impractical to provide this option.
  • Leveraging application guide for best practices in benefits application design and processes. The guide includes a sample online child care assistance application and provides examples of how states are already implementing recommended best practices. The intent behind the guide is to support states as they consider how to reduce long wait times for application approval and allow families to apply online at any time and from anywhere. The guide recommends reducing unnecessary documentation, which can reduce inequity in the child care subsidy program by improving access for families who most need services.
  • Clarifying how states can implement presumptive eligibility. These policies allow families to access child care subsidy while their eligibility is being determined, so they do not lose their child care slot or end up turning down a job or school opportunity. States are expected to approve applications for child care assistance within 30 days, but it can take much longer for some families. States can apply presumptive eligibility to families that present circumstances that strongly suggest they will be eligible, such as enrollment in other income support programs (SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, etc.), enrollment in Head Start programs, as well as those families who are part of a priority group such as families experiencing homelessness, or children with disabilities.

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The burden placed on families to complete an application – collecting and submitting required documents, attending in person interviews and following up on application errors or requests for further documentation, can cause families to lose their slot in a child care program, or to simply stop the process because it is too cumbersome. Likewise, child care providers face uncertainty around receiving payments or are unable to fill slots while awaiting eligibility decisions.

Making the application process less taxing for families can also reduce the administrative burden for Lead Agency staff and improve program integrity. Because OCC monitors the Lead Agency based on how the State Plan describes the eligibility determination, streamlining these processes will make the implementation less complicated for eligibility case workers and others responsible for the administration of the program. The less difficult to implement, the less likelihood there is for error, thus less risk of being out of compliance when the state is audited by the OCC.

Conclusion

Ensuring access to high quality child care is an imperative for parents and children, providers, communities and the economy. One of the simplest ways to do this is to make the eligibility policies simpler and the application for child care subsidies easier for families. There is an opportunity now to address this through updated CCDF State Plans.

About the Author

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Judy Reidt-Parker

Director, Start Early Consulting

Judy is a Director on the Start Early Consulting Team. She has worked in the early childhood field for over 30 years, including consulting in states such as Oregon, Maine, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

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