Producing a series of subsidy duration statistics with the ACF-801 data to be used for cross-state comparisons is desirable, though challenging for a variety of reasons. One limitation of the ACF-801 data, as previously discussed, is that some states include families receiving subsidies funded from SSBG, TANF-Direct, or state-funded programs in their caseload submissions, while other states do not. This issue is particularly salient because families receiving TANF have shorter spell lengths, on average, than other families and states that exclude some or all of their TANF families from their CCDF caseloads may artificially appear to have longer spell durations than states that include their TANF records in the ACF-801 data. These changes are especially challenging when states alter over time the populations they include in their ACF-801 data submissions. Thus, care should be exercised when making conclusions with the results. States also modify their policies and budgets across time, which may produce findings that are difficult to interpret without having intimate knowledge of the individual state programs. To mitigate these challenges this report primarily describes trends and patterns that appear consistent across many states, and less attention is placed on states with outlying characteristics. Hopefully, future researchers can build on the findings in this report with more in-depth examinations of the individual states with outlying characteristics because these states may have implemented innovative administrative practices that offer informative lessons for policymakers in other states.
A second limitation of the ACF-801 data is that it does not collect information about the circumstances of the families when they begin or exit the subsidy programs. One reason for examining child care subsidy duration patterns is that they are likely related to the usage patterns of child care arrangements. Many low-income families are unable to afford the full costs of care by themselves and the discontinuity of subsidies often corresponds with changes in child care arrangements. However, changes in care arrangements do not always occur when subsidies are initiated or discontinued8 and the ACF-801 data provide no information about why these transitions transpired. Therefore, the link between changes in subsidy receipt and continuity of care arrangements cannot be directly made with the data.
8 For example, in the absence of subsidies some families may be able to pay the full cost of care to the providers themselves, or they may be able to convince their providers to lower their payment obligations.