Declining Applications for Child Care Assistance

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By: Julie Jakopic, Board Chair


As applications for child care assistance decline, Virginia struggles to spend the more than $180 million it has available this year to help low-income, working families afford safe, high-quality child care.
Officially known as "Child Care Assistance for Working Families", it administered in Virginia by the Department of Social Services (VDSS). In 2017, Congress approved the largest increase ever to subsidized child care, bringing over $40 million more to Virginia’s child care system.
Despite this influx of new money to help working, low income families afford high-quality child care for their children, over the last four years the number of children receiving child care subsidy has declined by more than 30 percent.
According to the VDSS, the number of applications for the Virginia Child Care Subsidy Program has dropped from a high of 35,075 applications received in fiscal 2014 to a low of 25,668 received in fiscal 2018.
Improvements have been made to the program in recent years, but applications continue to decline. Before Congress approved the $40 million increase, reimbursement rates for providers were low and not always worth the paperwork and additional financial management. However, since June 2018 the state increased reimbursement rates significantly; they now are equivalent rates to 70 percent of licensed care in a locality. Additionally, assistance is now offered for 12 months and beyond as assistance gradually phases out while a family’s income increases.




End of SFY 2015

End of SFY 2018

Change FY15 to FY18





Total children






Source: KIDS COUNT Data Center https://datacente\,871,870,573,869/any/10590



The VDSS and local departments of social services report that they are working aggressively to increase enrollment in Virginia's Child Care Subsidy Program.  On April 28, 2019, a total of 20,225 children were authorized to participate in the program, up from 17,471 children served in January 2019.  Virginia’s wait list totals have dropped from 7,504 children on the wait list in January 2019 to 1,889 children currently waiting for services.  (Not all families on the wait list opt to join the program or are determined eligible when given the opportunity to join.) 
However, according to Voices for Virginia’s Children, despite this redoubled effort, since rates increased last June, the number of children participating in child care subsidy six months later only increased two percent.
Although it is difficult to understand fully why families do not request services, anecdotal information suggests there may be several reasons for the decline in Virginia:

  • Local departments of social services indicate hesitancy by the immigrant population to provide information in light of the current national spotlight on immigration and deportation. 
  • Local departments also report that potential applicants are sometimes reluctant to apply due to a requirement implemented in April 2016 for applicants and recipients to cooperate with Child Support Enforcement as required by §63.2-211 of the Code of Virginia. In the spring of 2016, VDSS put into place a policy requiring families to comply with the formal child support enforcement process to receive child care assistance. Before this requirement, parents could describe their informal arrangements in the calculation for their eligibility. This change turned away many people who wanted to maintain stable, albeit informal, relationships with the non-custodial parent and wanted to avoid the potentially punitive formal system.  
  • With a robust economy and low unemployment , fewer families may need financial assistance with the cost of child care.
  • Lack of knowledge among child care providers and low-income, working families about the availability of child care financial assistance in the Commonwealth.

What are some possible solution?


Work with child care providers to development a community outreach strategy. Providers and parents should be invited by the Virginia Department of Social Service to help develop a strategy to expand awareness about the child care subsidy program and its particular benefits (i.e. Reimbursement rate increase and longer term eligibility) and attract more parents and providers.
Revisit the state requirement for participation in the formal child support enforcement program. The procedure to require participation in child support enforcement went into effect without action by the legislature. VDSS should examine the (unintended) impact on child care subsidy participation and work with providers to consider alternative approaches to achieve the state’s child support goals.
Evaluate financial and payment practices that could ensure full participation. VDSS should consider further improvements in the reimbursement processes for providers, allocations to communities based on all ECE resources in a community, and contracting for high-quality "slots" to help facilitate access for harder to serve groups, such as infants and toddlers, and to help communities fill gaps in other ECE programs.




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