Child Care Subsidy Duration and Caseload Dynamics: A Multi-State Examination. Introduction


This report provides an examination of the length of time that low-income families receive government-funded child care subsidies that pay for part or all of the cost of their care arrangements.1 Statistics of subsidy duration provide a description of the interval of time that families utilize subsidies and document the calendar months when they are more or less likely to enter and exit the programs. These statistics are useful to researchers and policymakers because the patterns may be related to adult employment and child care stability outcomes, and they provide valuable information to program administrators who want to better understand the caseload dynamics of the subsidy programs.

The existing literature has examined the child care subsidy duration patterns of a few states, but these patterns have not been documented for the entire United States. This report partially fills in this knowledge gap by providing statistics of child care subsidy duration for 35 U.S. states using administrative data submitted by state subsidy programs to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In general, the data presented in this report show that families utilize child care subsidy programs for relatively short time periods in most states, usually less than a year, but frequently return to the subsidy programs after they exit. They are more likely to enter, leave, or return to the subsidy programs during particular times of the year and these usage patterns often coincide with the school year calendar. Since the administrative data used for the analysis does not have information on the employment situation of the families before and after they receive subsidies, and since it lacks information about the non-subsidized care arrangements of the participating families, it is challenging to determine why these patterns occur and to identify whether the breaks in subsidy usage coincide with a discontinuity of the child care arrangements. Despite these limitations, documenting child care subsidy patterns is an important part of understanding how the subsidy programs are currently being utilized and to what extent caseload dynamics differ across various states with dissimilar administrative policies and procedures.

1 The author would like to thank Karen Aschaffenburg, Kimberly Burgess, Ajay Chaudry, Nina Chien, Elizabeth Davis, Joseph Gagnier, Minh Le, Susan Hauan, Taryn Morrissey, Andrew Williams, and Sharon Wolf for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this report.

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