The effects of COVID-19 have many working parents struggling to find child care right now. Here’s what families need to know about the state and federal programs that might be able to help out financially.

By Nicole Harris
September 08, 2020
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Juggling child care as a working parent has never been easy. Add the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s no wonder that moms and dads are in desperate need of more assistance than ever. The sad reality? Child care might simply not fit into the budget right now for many American families.

Countless parents are dealing with job losses, pay cuts, and other financial hardships because of the coronavirus. In fact, a recent Care.com survey reported that 47 percent of parents are “more concerned about the cost of child care now than they were before the pandemic.”

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Not only that, but the risks of contracting COVID-19 have changed the conversation around daycare in general, even if it is something parents feel they can afford. The same Care.com survey also found that 63 percent of families didn’t feel comfortable placing their child in daycare yet. Plus, many centers have closed down or limited their class sizes to combat COVID-19 spread. It’s true that most kids display only minimal symptoms of the coronavirus, but precautions are necessary to keep communities safe.

Enter child care assistance programs. Implemented at the federal and state levels, these programs help parents pay for child care while they continue working. But how do you know which programs exist and who is eligible for each one? Keep reading to learn more about pandemic child care assistance and whether you might qualify. 

Federal Child Care Assistance Programs

Like mask mandates and schooling reopening plans, most child care assistance programs happen at the state or local level. However, some federal initiatives help relieve the financial burden placed on parents from the coronavirus. Here's what to know about them.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act states that certain employers must give paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to those dealing with COVID-19 concerns until December 31, 2020. This includes two weeks of paid sick leave for quarantining or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. It also includes two weeks leave paid at two-thirds salary for parents taking care of children under quarantine, or children whose “school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor

What’s more, the act gives “up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19,” says the U.S. Department of Labor.

With the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, parents can rest easier knowing they can care for their own children—without severe financial repercussions—if COVID-19 temporarily disrupts their child care plans. Check out the department of labor website for more information.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act act went into law on March 27, 2020. It provided a $2 trillion economic relief package relief to Americans—and many states have delegated some money for child care purposes. A policy scan from research organization Child Trends shows that the emergency funds helped pay child care providers who accept subsidies. The money also provided funding for emergency child care and assisted families with child care tuition.

Local authorities have also enacted the CARES Act for child care purposes. Take Erie County, New York, which dedicated $25 million to emergency child care in August 2020. The funds will reopen child care centers (and keep them open) and create new virtual learning centers, which lessens the strain on working parents.

Existing Child Care Options

Many child care subsidies existed before the coronavirus pandemic, and they're still relevant today. If you don't already know about these options, it might pay off to do your research.

State Assistance Subsidies. Individual states receive monetary assistance from the federal government for a child care subsidy program. Requirements for family qualification vary based on location, child age, income, and other factors. To learn more about state assistance subsidies, which are often given through the Child Care and Development Block Grants, check out your state's website. (ChildCare.gov also provides a comprehensive state-by-state search tool).

Tax Credits. Although tax season has passed for 2020, it's important to know that family credits can affect your overall tax liability. They include Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. To learn more about each tax credit and who qualifies for them, check out this article.

Military Family Assistance. If you're a member of the U.S. Department of Defense or the military, you probably qualify for subsidies from the federal government. Check out Child Care Aware of America to learn more.

Head Start Programs. See if your child qualifies for Head Start, Early Head Start, or state-funded prekindergarten. These programs, which focus on school preparation and child development, accept students based on income and other requirements. They often require little or no cost to parents. Learn more here.

State-Issued COVID Child Care Programs

Most pandemic child care assistance programs are issued at the state level. To read about your specific state and territory, visit the helpful guide on ChildCare.gov. It provides updated information on finding and paying for child care during the pandemic—complete with direct links to the websites you need. Here are some examples of state responses to child care during the pandemic:

Tennessee implemented the COVID-19 Pandemic Child Care Payment Assistance Program, which gives people in specific occupations free temporary child care. This program—which lasts until December 31, 2020—helps essential workers keep their jobs during the pandemic. It provides payment assistance and temporary child care locations to healthcare employees, law enforcement, social service workers, postal workers, grocery workers, transportation employees, and more, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services

In New York, the government granted local social services districts the ability to expand certain child care services. For example, they can waive family shares, extend the eligibility period, and “extend eligibility up to 85% of the state median income level,” according to the New York State Division of Child Care Services

Keep in mind that every state and territory has a different protocol, and not all of them provide assistance for child care. Local laws may also come into play. Check out ChildCare.gov—or visit your state and local government websites—for the latest information affecting your family.

Tips for Affording Child Care During the Pandemic

Not qualified for federal, state, or local assistance for child care? Don't panic just yet—you can take other measures to lessen the financial strain.

  • Plan out a budget that works for your family. Also take advantage of free tools, like the ones on Care.com for calculating full-time child carebabysitter rates, and nanny taxes.
  • Choose a daycare center with sibling discounts, sliding fee scales (pay rate is based on income), or payment plans.
  • Consider more cost-effective child options, such as nanny sharing or virtual babysitting.
  • See if your employer has any child care assistance programs—or if they offer child care discounts. Some employers may also be more flexible with hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Look into Dependent Care Accounts that are sometimes offered through employers. You might be eligible if you have children under age 13 and you're working full-time (or getting an education). With this type of account, parents can devote pre-tax dollars to child care—sometimes up to $5,000.
  • If Mom or Dad attends a university, see if it offers child care on campus.

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