Low-income families may be able to find help for child care expenses from government-sponsored grant funds. The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act allocates $5 billion for child care assistance annually as of 2010, dispersing funds to states based on the ratio of children under 5 years of age, the ratio of children receiving free or reduced-price school lunches and weighted income factors, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Each state designates an agency to manage and disperse federal funds from the block grant. The National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center provides an online listing of lead agencies by state, which includes contact information. States are required to match a portion of federal funds to help ensure that quality day care is available and must set day care reimbursement rates that allow low-income families to have access to the same quality of care as families not requiring financial assistance. Although the majority of the funds are used to help qualifying families pay for day care, states are required to set aside 4 percent to promote quality child care.
The Child Care and Development Fund is available to parents who need day care services so they can work, look for work or attend training for work. You can use the funds to help pay child care expenses for school-aged children as well as younger children. Funds are available for single parents and two-parent families who meet eligibility criteria set by their state. Your state's lead agency can provide specific details about eligibility and the application process.
If you qualify for financial assistance with child care expenses, the amount you receive will depend on several factors, including the average cost of child care in your area, the amount of funds available, your family income and the number of children in your family. States use a sliding scale to determine the percentage of child care expenses you receive. Funds are generally issued in the form of direct payment to your child care provider or via a certificate or voucher.
Although you get to choose your day care provider under the grant program, federal guidelines require that you choose a provider who meets your state's laws for child care homes or centers. Because of the high demand for child care assistance, some states maintain a waiting list for qualifying families. The National Association for the Education of Young Children reports that one of out 10 children who qualify for grant funding get assistance.