Higher subsidies improve child care stability

New research shows that higher child care subsidies result in less disruption for families. Ann Bailey, PhD, director of CEED, and Elizabeth E. Davis, PhD, professor of applied economics, are leading a research project called Coordinated Evaluation of Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Payment Policies. Bailey, Davis, and their colleagues are looking at recent changes to Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). These changes include higher child care subsidy payment rates. “Subsidy payment rate” means the amount that CCAP pays child care providers for their services to qualifying families. The researchers want to know how subsidy payment rates affect families’ access to high quality child care.

Not all child care providers accept subsidies. Sometimes, that’s because the payment rate is lower than what they usually charge. In Minnesota, providers can charge families the difference between the subsidy payment and their usual price. Higher subsidy payments, then, may expand the number of providers who accept subsidies. It may also mean that families end up paying a smaller share of the cost of care. Both of these factors can mean that families have more child care options, leading to a better child care experience for subsidized families.

Davis and co-author Jonathan Borowsky, JD, PhD, published new findings from the first phase of the research project. They looked at data about participation in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) in Minnesota. They compared data from before and after changes in subsidy payment rates. They wanted to know if those changes would affect two things:

  • The length of time children received subsidized child care (known as stability), and
  • The length of time children received child care from the same provider (known as continuity)

The size of the subsidy payment rate changes varied across counties in Minnesota. Davis and Borowsky compared the experiences of families in places where CCAP payment rates went up more with families in places that saw smaller increases in payment rates, or no increases at all. They found that higher subsidies improved both stability and continuity of care. Families who lived in counties with larger payment increases were significantly less likely to drop out of the subsidy program. They were also less likely to switch child care providers.

Stability and continuity matter. Stable relationships and predictable child care arrangements support children’s development and wellbeing. They also support parental employment. Frequent disruptions can have negative effects on both children and the adults who care for them.

Read the full report.

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