What you need to know about day care vouchers

What You Need to Know About Daycare Vouchers

When it comes to researching child care options, there are many factors for parents to consider -- not the least of which is cost. In Care.com’s recent Cost of Care Survey, which included insights from more than 1,000 parents nationwide, we found that nearly one in three families report spending 20 percent or more of their annual household income on child care. For a low-income family, that alone can make or break the decision to move forward with a child care center, which can impact parents’ career options and even the relationship dynamics in the household.

That’s where day care vouchers can help. These vouchers help subsidize the cost of day care through funds provided by the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a federal program that helps low-income families obtain child care, so parents can continue working or going to school. Voucher programs help bring parents peace of mind, allowing them to support the household while their child is under the care of responsible adults.

Think a day care voucher might be right for you and your family? Here’s what you need to know.

How do day care vouchers work?

Every state receives funds from the federal government to support day care voucher programs. These vouchers help offset the costs associated with child care by subsidizing -- or paying part of -- the tuition at participating day care centers. The parent is then responsible for the remaining amount of the facility’s tuition, a figure which is determined by several factors, including the size of their family and household income. In most cases, children must be younger than 13 years of age for a family to qualify. However, students with disabilities may qualify for the program up to their 19th birthday.

While the CCDF provides the funds for the voucher program, each state is responsible for administering the program and has its own eligibility guidelines and application process. Find out more information about your state’s particular plan on the CCDF site.

Do you qualify for day care vouchers?

This largely depends on the state you live in. Most states require that the parent or guardian is working, looking for a job (typically for no more than six to eight weeks) or attending school full-time. Income also plays a crucial role in deciding whether or not a family qualifies and is usually dependent upon where the family is in relation to the federal poverty level. Most states look for the parents’ income to be at or below the poverty level. For example, Florida requires income at or below 150 percent of the poverty level (for a household of four people that’s approximately equal to $36,450 a year), while New Jersey’s requirement is 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $48,600 per year for a household of four people.

Other factors might include whether or not your child has developmental needs and if child care is needed to support welfare services.

How much do I qualify for?

This figure varies from state to state, but depending on specific variables you may have a certain percentage of child care costs paid for or, in some cases, the entire amount. In Michigan, for example, a family of four earning between $5,013 to $5,214 can expect to contribute $65 a week toward day care. Connecticut, however, requires that the family pays anywhere between 2 percent to 10 percent of the day care costs depending on how far their income falls below the state’s median income level.

What if you don't qualify?

There are a number of other programs offered by the federal and state government to help parents in financial need. Here are just a few:

  • Head Start: Also funded by the federal government, Head Start works with low-income children under the age of 5 to promote school readiness. To find out if your family qualifies, contact the Head Start center nearest you.

  • State Funded Pre-K: Several states offer fully-funded pre-kindergarten programs to children between the ages of 3 and 5. These programs are typically half-day but may also be offered as a full-day option. Depending on the state you live in, you may have to meet certain criteria to qualify. However, some states have made the option available to all families who are residents.

  • Military Assistance Programs: Through Child Care Aware of America, both military and Department of Defense families may receive help through the Fee Assistance and Respite Child Care Programs.

  • Sliding Fee Scale: Ask your child care provider or day care if they’re willing to work with your family’s income situation. Certain providers may choose to scale the tuition based on your finances.

  • Scholarships: Keep an eye out for local non-profits offering child care scholarships in your area based on need, like 10,000 Degrees in Marin County, California, and the Scott County Kids Early Childhood Childcare Scholarship administered by Friendly House in Iowa.

Read next: Learn all about the day care tax credit

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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